SoftBank CEO says Khashoggi killing may have some impact on Saudi-backed Vision Fund

Key Points
  • SoftBank has poured billions into start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the world through its $100 billion Vision Fund.
  • Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said "there may be some impact" on the fund after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
  • Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund has contributed $45 billion to the Vision Fund.
Masayoshi Son speaks during a joint announcement with Toyota Motor to make new venture to develop mobility services in Tokyo in October 2018.
Alessandro Di Ciommo | NurPhoto | Getty Images

SoftBank's chief executive broke his silence over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Monday, saying the incident could have some impact on the firm's $100 billion Vision Fund.

The Japanese tech investment giant has poured billions into start-ups in Silicon Valley and around the world through this investment fund. The fund is anchored by Saudi money, with the country's sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF) contributing $45 billion.

"We don't yet know the clear understanding of the case so we would like to be careful watching the outcome," SoftBank's Masayoshi Son said via a translator at an investor briefing following the release of the company's second-quarter results Monday.

Son said he had not heard of any companies saying they would not want to accept investments from the Vision Fund due to its relationship with Saudi Arabia's PIF, however he said that "there may be some impact" on the fund's investments.

SoftBank on Monday said that its July-September operating profit rose to 705.7 billion Japanese yen ($6.23 billion), an almost 80 percent jump from the 395.6 billion yen profit it reported in the previous year. Its bumper revenues have been helped by higher valuations on the bets it has made on tech companies.

Son said he had met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to raise his concerns about the incident. When asked by a reporter about what he had told him, Son replied the crown prince had said: "This was not something which should have happened."

SoftBank's boss declined to attend a major business conference in Saudi Arabia, the Future Investment Initiative, last month, but he said that he did visit the country to meet with officials and raise his concerns about Khashoggi's death.

'We cannot turn our backs on the Saudi people'

Son said SoftBank has a "responsibility to the people of Saudi Arabia" and suggested the incident wouldn't shake its ties with the country. He called Khashoggi's killing a "horrific and deeply regrettable act," and said the firm wanted "to see those responsible held accountable."

"At the same time, we have also accepted the responsibility to the people of Saudi Arabia, an obligation we take quite seriously to help them manage their financial resources and diversify their economy," said Son.

He added: "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."

Saudi Arabia has been upping its investment in technology as part of a wider strategy aimed at diversifying the country's economy away from a reliance on oil.

On October 25, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor acknowledged for the first time that Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey was "premeditated," deviating from previous claims that his death was unintended.

The Arab kingdom initially denied any involvement in his disappearance, saying the Washington Post journalist had left the consulate unharmed. The crown prince has said Saudi Arabia is cooperating with Turkey over Khashoggi's killing, and that those found guilty will be brought to justice.

Concerns over the former Washington Post journalist's death saw SoftBank's share price take a dive last month. The stock has fallen more than 20 percent since October 5.

Despite the recent controversy, the firm's investment fund doesn't seem to have retreated from making deals. Last week, smart glass maker View announced that it had received a $1.1 billion capital injection from SoftBank, while Zume, a start-up that uses robots to make pizza, reportedly received a $375 million investment from the Japanese tech giant.

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