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William Morris Endeavor is “assessing” its relationship with Saudi Arabia following the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, months after the monarchy invested an estimated $400 million in the agency.
“WME is aware of the situation and we are assessing,” a person with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap. The insider did not elaborate on what exactly that assessment entails.
Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, went missing Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Top Turkish security officials have since concluded that Khashoggi was assassinated on orders from the highest levels of the royal court. The Saudi government maintains that he left the consulate soon after he arrived and is not in their custody.
Earlier this year, The Public Investment Fund — the kingdom’s major sovereign wealth vehicle — struck a deal with WME to buy a stake of less than 10 percent in the talent agency and media company for at least $400 million. Khashoggi ‘s disappearance has cast a shadow on that deal, and could put WME at odds with other clients, which include prominent journalists who are covering the story.
And at least one company in which WME has recently invested expressed concern over the involvement of the agency with Saudi Arabia in the wake of what appears to be a brutal killing.
On Wednesday, The New York Times announced it will withdraw as a media partner from an upcoming Saudi investment conference in Riyadh later this month. And on Thursday, Patrick Soon-Shiong, the owner of the Los Angeles Times, announced he was pulling the paper out of the conference.
Andrew Ross Sorkin, a New York Times columnist and co-anchor of CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” said that he too was cancelling his appearance, tweeting Thursday: “I’m terribly distressed by the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of his murder.”
In April, Hollywood rolled out the red carpet for the Saudi prince, hoping to cash in on a new, lucrative market.
AMC Theaters, the country’s largest theater chain, struck a lucrative deal to build the kingdom’s first ever movie theater. The company has plans to open 40 more theaters in the kingdom within the next five years with the aim to reach 100 locations by 2030.
AMC did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
“I would say all those deals are on hold for the moment to see how this sorts out,” Lloyd Greif, founder and CEO of Greif & Co., an investment banking firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions involving media and entertainment companies, told TheWrap.
“I think it’s going to be increasingly difficult for Hollywood to hold its nose and take his money,” he said.