Business Leaders, Media Pull Out Of Saudi Arabia Event After Journalist Disappears

International business leaders and media companies are distancing themselves from Saudi Arabia ahead of an investment summit known as "Davos in the Dessert" that is to take place in the Kingdom later this month.

The pullback from the three-day event that begins October 23 in Riyadh comes after the suspicious disappearance of a Saudi journalist, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Turkish authorities say they have evidence Mr. Khashoggi was tortured and killed in the consulate. Saudi Arabia has called the allegations "baseless."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pitched the Kingdom as a destination for foreign investment as a way to bolster non-oil revenue. In October, 2017, the World Bank reported that Saudi Arabia had carried out a record number of business reforms in order to attract foreign investments.

But Mr. Khashoggi's disappearance have led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming high-profile investment conference. British billionaire Richard Branson said he was stepping away from the directorship in two tourism projects in Saudi Arabia, and
that he is suspending talks over possible Saudi investment in his space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, U.S. mass media conglomerate Viacom Inc. (NASDAQ: VIAB) CEO Bob Bakish and billionaire Steve Case, one of the founders of AOL, said they were no longer going to the conference either.

At the same time, CNN, the Financial Times, the New York Times and CNBC, as well as reporters and editors from the Economist, said they were no longer participating in the conference, which relies heavily on journalists to moderate its sessions.

However, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top Wall Street banks will still attend the conference, and U.S. President Donald Trump has said he sees no reason to block Saudi Arabian investments in the United States.

On Friday, conference organizers removed all the names of attendees from its website as the number of cancellations grew. But late Sunday, the website was promising "deep engagement with global media" at the upcoming event.