Wednesday 24, October 2018 by Bloomberg

SoftBank’s Son goes to Riyadh, skips FII Conference


SoftBank Group’s $100 billion Vision Fund has a $45 billion commitment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF).

SoftBank Group’s CEO Masayoshi Son met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, but will not attend a controversial investment conference now underway in that city. He also skipped a dinner held at the residence of Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the managing director of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fun. Son is leaving Riyadh today.

Son joins a growing list of business leaders who have distanced themselves from the Future Investment Initiative conference. Son's planned absence was earlier reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The exodus from the event, sometimes called ‘Davos in the Desert’, was prompted by growing evidence linking the violent death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Prince Mohammed. Saudi Arabia says the death was the result of a fistfight and that Prince Mohammed wasn’t involved. 

Other SoftBank executives are still attending the conference, including Saleh Romeih, who spoke on a panel. Faisal Rahman, SoftBank's head of operations in the Middle East, is also in the country. However, its chief operating officer, Marcelo Claure, pulled out of the conference on Monday.

The situation puts SoftBank in a difficult position. If SoftBank stands behind Prince Mohammed, who spearheaded the Kingdom’s investment in the Vision Fund, the fund could become a toxic asset, and it could find itself shut out of deals with promising start-ups as founders seek alternate investors. But if SoftBank walks away, the Saudis could pull their funding, including a further $45 billion promised for the next Vision Fund. 

Several SoftBank-backed companies, including construction start-up Katerra and indoor-farming business Plenty, have made plans to expand into the Middle East. Both were scheduled to speak at this week’s conference. The Vision Fund is also a big investor in high-profile start-ups like Uber Technologies, which has also taken money directly from the PIF. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was one of the first business leaders to drop out of the conference following news about Khashoggi.

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