Saudi Arabia kills deal with Virgin Hyperloop One

Saudi Arabia has scratched a planned deal with Virgin Hyperloop One after Richard Branson, a major investor and company director, criticized the kingdom, the Financial Times reported.

Hyperloop is a futuristic high-speed train concept made up of passenger “pods” traveling in a vacuum. Virgin Hyperloop One has a handful of projects in the works, including in the United Arab Emirates, Spain, India, Ohio and Texas. 

Branson, Virgin Group’s founder and chairman, is among a handful of business leaders to decide against attending an investment conference in the country after it was accused of involvement in the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist based in the U.S. Khashoggi hasn’t been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2.

Branson said last week that he was suspending his work on two Saudi tourism projects and curtailing talks of Saudi investment in two other projects.

“What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi Government,” he said in a blog post.

Several hours after the post, Virgin Hyperloop One was disinvited from the conference, the FT reported.

Many American financial and media companies have removed their sponsorship of the conference, known as the Future Investment Initiative, or said they won’t attend this year. They include Uber, The New York Times, Viacom, CNN and Bloomberg. Former U.S. Energy Secretary Energy Ernest Moniz and Arianna Huffington have also said they won’t attend.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is still planning to attend.

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