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Major Hollywood investment firm returns $400m to Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi murder

Endeavor was tasked with promoting kingdom's entertainment industry, but severed the relationship
US rapper Nelly performed in Jeddah in December to a male-only crowd (AFP)

A major Hollywood investment firm returned $400m to Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The firm, Endeavor, gave back the money it had received from the kingdom’s public investment fund to help  build the Saudi entertainment sector as part of the much-touted Vision 2030 reform initiatives, multiple media outlets said on Friday, citing people familiar with the matter.

According to a Washington Post article, Endeavor’s CEO Ari Emanuel soured on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Khashoggi’s murder last October.

Endeavor initially received the money from Saudi Arabia when bin Salman toured the US to promote his reform policies, meeting and dining with politicians, media executives and Silicon Valley moguls.

Bin Salman has loosened some social strictures, including ending a ban on women driving, curbing the powers of the religious police and easing gender segregation rules.

While the government put on concerts, including a performance by the Black Eyed Peas and Nelly last year, the reform push has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrests of women’s rights activists, clerics and intellectuals. 

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The crown prince also arrested numerous princes and businessmen in a so-called corruption purge and held them in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, where reports emerged that some were tortured.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the royal family, was killed by Saudi government agents at the country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Saudi officials initially insisted that Khashoggi left the building unharmed, but acknowledged weeks later that the journalist had been killed.

In December, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution stating that it believed the crown prince was responsible for the assassination. The CIA also concluded that he was behind the murder.

Riyadh has consistently maintained that bin Salman was not involved in Khashoggi's slaying - an assertion that has been met with scepticism from political analysts, intelligence officials, journalists and US politicians, who say such an operation could not have been authorised without his approval.

Riyadh says it has charged 11 people with the murder, and is seeking the death penalty for five of them. The names of the suspects have not been released.

US President Donald Trump has reiterated the Saudi denials and countered the CIA's assessment, refusing to denounce the crown prince.

Earlier on Thursday, a United Nations-led investigation into Khashoggi's killing placed blame on Saudi officials for the "brutal and premeditated" murder.