From Wall Street to K Street, Companies Gauge the Risks of Doing Business With Saudi Arabia

Several news outlets, including The New York Times, canceled their participation in a government-sponsored investor conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in two weeks, where the kingdom’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is expected to speak. The Los Angeles Times and The Economist also announced they would not attend.

But for financial and technology companies, several of which have multibillion-dollar ties to Saudi Arabia, the calculus is more complicated. Few executives have backed out of the conference, which is called the Future Investment Initiative but is known colloquially as Davos in the Desert.

Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, was one of the few to announce that they would back out.

“Unless a substantially different set of facts emerges, I won’t be attending,” he said in a statement late Thursday night.

The company’s relationship with the Saudis is also perhaps one of the most complex. The Public Investment Fund, a large Saudi sovereign wealth fund, invested $3.5 billion for a 5.6 percent share in Uber in June 2016. The fund’s managing director, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, took a seat on Uber’s board. Prince Mohammed is the chairman of the Public Investment Fund.

Last year, SoftBank, the Japanese telecommunications conglomerate, purchased a large stake in Uber as well, and took two seats on the company’s board. SoftBank’s Vision Fund investment arm is largely backed by capital from the Public Investment Fund.