Uber CEO pulls out of Saudi conference over Khashoggi disappearance

Uber CEO pulls out of Saudi conference over Khashoggi disappearance
Dara Khosrowshahi has said he will not be attending Saudi Arabia's Future Investment Initiative later in October 'unless a substantially different set of fact emerges'.
3 min read
12 October, 2018
Dara Khosrowshahi announced his withdrawal from the FII on Friday [AFP]

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi has become the latest big name to pull out of a major Saudi business conference dubbed the "Davos in the Desert", amid growing concern about the fate of missing journalist Jamal Khshoggi.

Khosrowshahi said in a statement emailed to CNBC on Friday that he will not be attending the Future Investment Initiative (FII) due to take place later this month. 

"I'm very troubled by the reports to date about Jamal Khashoggi," Khosrowshahi said. "We are following the situation closely, and unless a substantially different set of fact emerges, I won't be attending the FII conference in Riyadh."

The Uber chief's withdrawal from the FII follows a growing list of top business people, media figures and organisations who have announced their non-participation in the conference.

So far, Virgin group founder Richard Branson, Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, AOL co-founder Steve Case, The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and the New York Times have all reportedly pulled out of the conference over the Khashoggi case.

Calls have been made for other attendees to withdraw their support over the suspected murder.

Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for the Washington Post, disappeared during a visit to the Saudi consulate on 2 October. Since then, Turkish sources have claimed that the 59-year-old was killed on the orders of Riyadh by a 15-member hit squad sent from the kingdom.

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared during a visit to the 
Saudi consulate in Istanbul [AFP]

On Thursday, the Washington Post published a report saying that Turkish officials had informed the US that it is in posession of audio and video evidence of Khashoggi's alleged killing.

By joining the growing boycott of the FII, Khosrawshahi has added to mounting global pressure on Saudi Arabia, as the kingdom holds a significant stake in the Uber ride-hailing app. In 2016, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund invested $3.5 billion in the firm.

Key allies of Saudi Arabia, including the US and UK, have also expressed their grave concern over the assassination allegations. Riyadh has denied the claims, saying that Khashoggi left the consulate building after his visit.

Attracting foreign investment has been a key part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plans for transforming Saudi Arabia's economy, dubbed the Vision 2030 programme.

Bin Salman had previously been warmly welcomed by influential Western business and technology figures such as Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post, discussing investment opportunities for Vision 2030.

During bin Salman's visit to the US, prominent business people and media outlets praised the young leader for his reforms in the kingdom, turning a blind eye to the rampant human rights violations in the country.