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Saudi’s Uber and Tesla Investor Thrust Into Crisis

The murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Turkey has sparked soul-searching among U.S. tech companies that have accepted investment money from Saudi Arabia’s investment fund, most notably through SoftBank’s Vision Fund. And it threatens efforts by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the mild-mannered managing director of the Saudi fund, to build the fund’s profile and make new tech investments.

Mr. Al-Rumayyan, who this week presided over the polarizing Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, which was once dubbed “Davos in the desert,” has emerged as a hugely important tech investor over the past two years. He has developed ties with CEOs of numerous high-profile public and private companies in the West, from Elon Musk to Richard Branson to Travis Kalanick, now the former CEO of Uber. Mr. Al-Rumayyan was the Saudi investor who met with Mr. Musk this summer to discuss the Saudi fund possibly backing a buyout of Tesla, a deal that didn’t get far but led to an SEC inquiry into Mr. Musk’s tweets. More significant is the Saudi fund’s $45 billion commitment to the Vision Fund, which has since taken sizable positions in Uber, General Motors’ Cruise autonomous vehicle unit, and WeWork, which rents office space. The Saudi fund also holds a direct stake in Uber, thanks to a $3.5 billion investment made in 2016.

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Mr. Al-Rumayyan was “a little bit bewildered by what’s going on.”