Oct 17, 2018

Davos in the Desert's biggest name keeps quiet on Saudi allegations

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata

Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo (L), Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (center) and SoftBank's Masayoshi Son at last year's Future Investment Initiative event. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images.

More big names have pulled out of next week's Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, including TPG Chairman David Bonderman, Uptake CEO Brad Keywell and NYSE President Stacey Cunningham (she's citing a scheduling conflict).

But the biggest name, SoftBank, is keeping quiet. And so are several of its Silicon Valley portfolio companies, including Katerra and Plenty, whose CEOs are scheduled to speak in Riyadh (based on an archived speakers page that has since been removed from the event website).

SoftBank COO Marcelo Claure repeatedly hedged on Saudi-related questions from reporters yesterday during Arm TechCon:

"I think we, like most parties in the world, are looking at events unfold; and then based on that, we’re going to make decisions in the future. But at this point in time, I think, like most companies that have a relationship with Saudi Arabia, are watching the developments and seeing where this goes. There’s developments pretty much every hour these days; so we are just, you know, monitoring. ...
Right now it is business as usual — we are continuing to run our company, our funds. It’s business as usual."

The bottom line: SoftBank is running out of time, as there may not be conclusive information by the time FII is scheduled to kick off in a week from today.

  • President Trump got headlines yesterday for his "innocent until proven guilty" comment about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), but more notable might have been a rhetorical shift when he tweeted that, during a phone call, MBS "totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate." That suggests Saudi acknowledgement that something did happen in the Consulate and that Jamal Khashoggi didn't walk out under his own power.

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