SoftBank Chief Is Said to Have Canceled Appearance at Saudi Conference

By Michael J. de la Merced and Amie Tsang

Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of SoftBank, has canceled his appearance at an investment conference in Saudi Arabia, which is providing almost half of SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund.CreditCreditToru Hanai/Reuters

LONDON — The chief executive of the SoftBank Group, Masayoshi Son, one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest business partners, has canceled his appearance at an investment conference in Riyadh, the latest fallout from the death of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a person briefed on the matter said Tuesday.

Word of Mr. Son’s decision not to attend came on Tuesday, the first day of the conference. A representative for SoftBank, the Japanese internet, energy and financial conglomerate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment

However, Saleh Romeih, an executive with Softbank’s Vision Fund, the biggest technology fund on record, spoke on a panel at the conference on Tuesday, a spokesman for the fund said. The Saudi government is providing $45 billion of the Vision Fund’s nearly $100 billion.

High-profile executives from around the world have pulled out of the conference as the furor has grown over Mr. Khashoggi’s killing this month at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

The controversy put Mr. Son and SoftBank in a difficult position. The Vision Fund, which is meant to take stakes in scores of start-ups working on technology like artificial intelligence, is a critical part of SoftBank’s future.

But publicly sticking with the Saudis could have alienated the very companies that Mr. Son hopes to court, many of which are built on progressive values.

Executives including Dara Khosrowshahi of Uber and Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase had earlier canceled plans to attend the event, known as the Future Investment Initiative. The United States Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, canceled his plans to attend, although he met with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in Riyadh on Monday.

Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has also pulled out of the event.

Still, while many of these executives have opted to stay away from the conference because of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, many have maintained their ties with Saudi Arabia, reluctant to miss out on potential deals with the oil-rich kingdom. Saudi Arabia was the biggest source of capital for American start-ups last year, and Western banks have been lining up for the chance to advise the Saudis on deals.

Follow Michael de la Merced on Twitter: @m_delamerced.