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Virgin's Branson suspends $1B Saudi investment talks over missing journalist

Virgin Group's Richard Branson suspended proposed investment talks with Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, joining a growing list of business leaders and firms that have distanced themselves from Saudis after the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a known critic of the Saudi government and a Washington Post columnist, has been missing since Oct. 2, when he was last seen visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish authorities claim that they have audio and video evidence to prove that Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate, The Washington Post reported. According to Saudi officials, Khashoggi left the building unharmed.

Billionaire Branson said Oct. 11: "What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government."

Branson has asked for more information from Saudi officials regarding the case and to clarify their position, Branson said.

Saudi's Public Investment Fund was planning to invest about $1 billion in space firms Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit. Virgin Galactic is competing with Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to be the first company to send tourists into space.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber's CEO, Viacom's Robert Bakish and Steve Case, the former head of AOL, along with several media firms, have either decided not to attend a major conference in Riyadh or have put their plans on hold, BBC News and the Financial Times reported. The Future Investment Initiative, which runs from Oct. 23 to Oct. 25, is known as "Davos in the desert."

While the investigations are ongoing, Branson also suspended his two directorships involving tourism projects around the Red Sea.