SoftBank finally condemned Khashoggi’s murder—but it won’t stop taking Saudi money

Stand by your man.
Stand by your man.
Image: AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi
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Masayoshi Son is breaking his deafening silence.

The SoftBank CEO has finally condemned the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident who was killed in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul last month.

And yet, Son doesn’t intend to break off his firm’s relationship with the Saudi government, which in 2016 committed to investing up to $45 billion in Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund—the largest venture fund of all time.

“We want to see those responsible held accountable,” he told investors in an earnings presentation today (Nov. 5)—his first public remarks on Khashoggi’s death. “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.”

While a number of leaders and firms have distanced themselves from the Saudi government in the weeks since Khashoggi’s death, Son stayed quiet—which as far as optics went, painted a picture of an executive still on the side of the Saudi government and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was only at the last moment, as more attention shifted to SoftBank’s silence, that Son cancelled a speech he was slated to give at the country’s Future Investment Initiative, commonly known as the “Davos in the Desert,” last month.

Son, however, is framing SoftBank’s decision to continue managing Saudi money as a way to help the Saudi people, rather than benefiting from a despotic government’s investments. His argument is that SoftBank’s Vision Fund will help diversify the Saudi economy so it’s not so dependent on oil (paywall).

“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,” he said.

In addition to what Saudi Arabia has already committed, bin Salman had signaled in recent remarks that the country’s sovereign wealth fund was planning to invest another $45 billion in SoftBank’s fund. But responding to a reporter’s question at today’s briefing, Son wouldn’t say outright whether the Vision Fund would accept more Saudi money.

“Once the explanation is fully made, then we will think about it,” he said.