The CEO of Japanese investment bank SoftBank, Masayoshi Son, has said that the killing of Turkish journalist Jamal Khashoggi could have an impact on the bank’s $100 billion Vision Fund. The Vision Fund, which is pouring money into Silicon Valley companies including Uber and Slack, is backed by Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at a quarterly earnings call on Monday 5 November, Son condemned Khashoggi’s murder, describing it as an “act against humanity and also journalism and free speech… a horrible and deeply regrettable act.” However, he did not commit to any specific action, instead indicating that he, and fellow investors, would be cautious in planning the next round of funding for Vision Fund.
Son tempered any suggestion of any form of punitive action saying “Before this tragic case happened, we had already accepted a responsibility to the people of Saudi Arabia to help them manage their financial resources and we can’t all of a sudden drop such responsibility.” From this perspective, it doesn’t look like Son wants to do anything that could damage the relationship with his largest investors.
“As horrible as this event was we cannot turn our backs on the Saudi people as we work to help them in their continued efforts to reform and modernize their society.” – Masayoshi Son
Khashoggi’s death has caused some damage to SoftBank’s shares, with its stock falling 20% from October 5 (as reported by CNBC), but it doesn’t look like SoftBank and Vision Fund leaders are quite ready to cut ties with Saudi Arabia over the killing. Instead, Son simply said that Vision Fund will “think very carefully” about what funds it accepts from Saudi Arabia in future.
Son met with the Saudi Crown Prince last month to express his concerns about the incident, but did not attend the Future Investment Initiative. An important event for Saudi Arabia on the global stage, the FII was overshadowed by Khashoggi’s death.
For context, other business leaders have been decisive and clear in their relationship with Saudi Arabia. Richard Branson, for example, ended talks with the Saudi Public Investment Fund – the same fund that pushes money into Vision Fund – which was interested in investing in Virgin Galactic and Orbit, Virgin’s two space-related projects.