Last Tuesday, a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist and columnist for the Washington Post walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. No one has seen him since.
Jamal Khashoggi was an outspoken critic of the Saudi government and had been living in the US in self-imposed exile because he feared being arrested in his home country.
Turkish officials have concluded, based on audio and video recordings they claim to have, that the Saudi government tortured and murdered Khashoggi inside the consulate and smuggled out his dismembered body to hide the evidence.
That has not been definitively proven, but the evidence that has trickled out over the past week makes it seem increasingly likely that Khashoggi is dead.
However, it’s unclear if he was murdered on purpose or was the victim of a botched attempt to abduct him and smuggle him back to Saudi Arabia.
Over the past week, the Trump administration, the United Nations, and others have called for a thorough and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s fate, and outrage over his disappearance and the lack of answers from the Saudi government has grown.
In response, several media outlets, companies and individuals have withdrawn from the Future Investment Initiative (FII), an upcoming conference in Riyadh that’s been called “Davos in the Desert.” They include:
- The New York Times
- Ariana Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post
- The Economist’s editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes
- The Financial Times
- UBER CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
- Viacom’s CEO Bob Bakish
- World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
- LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong
However, US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told CNBC on Friday that he was still planning to attend the investment conference, saying: “Saudi has been a very good partner.”
A spokesperson for the FII conference told Reuters that they still planned to go ahead with the event, set to take place on October 23-25, even though it was “disappointing” that some speakers and partners had pulled out.
Prominent investors and tech executives have also distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia due to concerns about the Khashoggi allegations, including:
- Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, suspended his position as director of two tourism projects in the kingdom and suspended his company’s discussions with the country over investment in two space projects.
- At least four members of the advisory board of Neom — a $500 billion futuristic city project. This list includes former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz; the founder of Sidewalk Labs, Dan Doctoroff; Sam Altman, a partner at the startup investor Y Combinator; and Neelie Kroes, the former vice president of the European Commission.
And, perhaps most surprising, a prominent lobbying firm representing the Saudi government’s interests in Washington, the Harbour Group, severed ties with its powerful client on Thursday, terminating its $80,000-a-month contract.
There may even be ramifications in Hollywood. Actor Gerard Butler canceled a planned trip to Riyadh to promote his film Hunter Killer over the Khashoggi allegations, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
It seems like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not going to be able to make this story go away anytime soon.