United States talent agency Endeavor has returned a $400mln investment fund to Saudi Arabia and cancelled its contract with the kingdom over the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The New York Times reported.
The fund was given to the firm’s chief Ariel Emanuel during a high-profile Hollywood party last spring, which brought together Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), Disney chief executive Robert Iger and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, among others.
The money was meant to fund the growth of Endeavor and diversify the kingdom’s economy through the agency’s work in various industries including sports and film production.
But following the murder of Khashoggi, the firm returned the fund, protesting the murder, and effectively ending its relationship with Saudi Arabia, according to two NYT sources with knowledge of the deal
The move came after several international companies including Uber and Goldman Sachs cancelled plans to attend an investment conference in Saudi capital Riyadh in October last year.
It also followed Richard Branson, founder of the British media and technology conglomerate Virgin Group, suspending talks with Saudi Arabia over potential investment in his business ventures, NYT reported.
During a tour of the US last spring, MbS met with a number of US politicians and business leaders, seeking deals to develop Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and reduce the country’s dependence on oil.
During the trip, he signed deals with film-theatre company AMC and amusement park operator Six Flags to expand into the kingdom and promote its entertainment industry, NYT added.
Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Riyadh government, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Turkish city of Istanbul in early October 2018.
After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the murder. The whereabouts of his remains are still unknown
According to Turkish officials, Khashoggi’s body was cut into piece, which were then likely burned in an outdoor furnace in the garden of the consulate general’s residence, about 300 metres away from the consulate.
Khashoggi’s death fuelled discontent in Washington over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.
On Thursday, US senators challenged President Donald Trump’s nominee to the post of US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to take a tough line with the kingdom on human rights and other abuses.
The senators accused the kingdom of a litany of misdeeds, and one senator criticised MbS as going “full gangster”.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would end US support for the Saudi-led coalition, an important rebuke of Riyadh.