Gates Foundation halts cooperation with Saudi crown prince's nonprofit after Khashoggi killing

Key Points
  • The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is canceling much of its $5 million pledge to a nonprofit chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi played a part in the Gates Foundation's decision, a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal.
  • This is the latest sign of fallout after the slaying of Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince and U.S. permanent resident.
Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman (R) meets with Microsoft founder Bill Gates (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on November 14, 2017. 
Bandar Algaloud | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

A youth charity founded by Saudi Arabia's crown prince just lost an influential backer, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in the latest sign of fallout after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The charitable organization started by the Microsoft co-founder and his philanthropist wife is canceling much of its $5 million pledge to the MiSk Foundation, a Saudi youth empowerment nonprofit chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Last week, a Saudi prosecutor acknowledged for the first time that agents of the kingdom planned Khashoggi's slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The prosecutor initially said the Washington Post columnist and U.S. resident was unintentionally killed during a physical altercation. The Saudis earlier claimed Khashoggi, a critic of Prince Mohammed, left the consulate unharmed.

The "current situation" played a part in the Gates Foundation's decision, a spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the news.

"Jamal Khashoggi's abduction and murder is extremely troubling. We are observing current events with concern," the foundation said in a statement.

Saudi crown prince addresses Khashoggi investigation at FII conference

The Gates Foundation has already committed $1.5 million to the MiSK Grand Challenges, a $10 million initiative that plans to offer $100,000 grants to 100 innovators working on global citizenship, education and other issues. The spokesperson told the Journal the Gates Foundation will disburse its first round of funding totaling $1.5 million to grantees, but will not participate in future funding rounds.

The kingdom has sought to put distance between Khashoggi's killing and Prince Mohammed, the face of Saudi Arabia's social and economic reform push. Some of Khashoggi's alleged killers have been linked to the crown prince, who also oversees the nation's defense and intelligence arms.

Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson, another high-profile philanthropist, has also distanced himself from endeavors with Saudi Arabia in light of Khashoggi's killing.

Dozens of business leaders, influential individuals and media companies — including CNBC — pulled out of a Saudi investment summit last month. U.S. lawmakers have called on the Trump administration to explore sanctioning Saudi individuals and suspend talks to export nuclear energy technology to the kingdom.