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Richard Branson freezes Saudi business ties amid reports of journalist's murder

Richard Branson freezes Saudi business ties amid reports of journalist's murder
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Virgin Group CEO Richard Branson is the latest business figure to announce a readjustment of his dealings with Saudi Arabia due to the disappearance and alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born journalist who vanished earlier this month after entering the Saudi Consulate in Turkey.

In a statement Friday to The Guardian, Branson says that Khashoggi's disappearance and reports that Turkish police have evidence showing that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi security forces constitutes an obstacle for doing business with the country's royal family.

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Branson told the newspaper that he had “high hopes for the current government in the kingdom and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," but that the disappearance of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who had been critical of the Saudi royal family, had dampened those hopes.

“[I]f proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government," Branson added in his statement.

Immediate steps taken by Branson include a suspension of his involvement in a Red Sea tourism initiative headed by Saudi Arabia as well as a call to “suspend discussions over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit," he told The Guardian.

Branson's withdrawal from business arrangements with the country follows statements from several media organizations, including The New York Times, The Economist and several prominent journalists, who said Thursday that they would not participate in the upcoming Saudi-held Future Investment Initiative.

"Murdering a critic on foreign soil would be an escalation of a dismal trend," an editorial posted by The Economist read on Thursday. 

"Unlike past Saudi royals, who allowed some debate and often sought to mediate between competing interests, Prince Muhammad rules as if only he has the answers," the Economist's statement added. 

Saudi officials have denied any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance or death, and have called for a joint investigation with Turkish security into the columnist's whereabouts. On Thursday, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE indicated that the U.S. was in contact with Turkey, and was eager to learn the results of an investigation.

"I have to find out what happened. I mean, I do have to find out. And we're probably getting closer than you might think. But I have to find out what happened," the president said on Fox News.

A Saudi Arabian delegation arrived in Turkey on Friday as part of an investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance, according to the Associated Press.