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SoftBank boss condemns Khashoggi murder, but won't end ties

The agreement is expected to give SoftBank some 15 percent of Uber's equity, by acquiring shares from early investors -- cutting the estimated value of Uber by 30 percent
KAZUHIRO NOGI (AFP/File)
The company's ties with the Middle Eastern kingdom have come into sharp relief with the Khashoggi scandal

The head of Japanese firm SoftBank on Monday condemned the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but indicated he would continue to do business with Saudi Arabia.

The hotly awaited comments by Masayoshi Son, whose conglomerate has close ties to the Kingdom, threatened to overshadow the firm's results, which saw an eight-fold jump in net profits.

Under the tycoon Son, SoftBank -- originally a software giant -- has increasingly become an investment firm, plowing funds into a broad range of companies and projects outside its core business.

Using the SoftBank Vision Fund, worth an estimated $100 billion, Son has taken stakes in some of the hottest firms in the tech sector, including Uber, Slack, WeWork and Nvidia.

Nearly half of the money in the fund comes from Saudi Arabia and there has been a pledge of another $45 billion this year.

Son said SoftBank was "deeply saddened" by the news of Khashoggi's murder, which he condemned as "a horrific and deeply regrettable act".

However, he added: "As horrible as this event was, we cannot turn our backs on the Saudi people as we work to help them in their continued efforts to reform and modernise their society."

FAYEZ NURELDINE (AFP)

Son confirmed he boycotted a high-profile Saudi investment forum last month along with dozens of global business titans after reports emerged that Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

And he said he had sought explanations from senior Saudi officials over the killing, stressing: "We want to see those responsible held accountable."

Nevertheless, he said the firm took seriously its "obligation" to help the Saudi people "manage their financial resources and diversify their economy".

The company's ties with the Middle Eastern kingdom have come into sharp relief with the Khashoggi scandal, and SoftBank shares dropped sharply when the news broke.

After a long period of silence, Son wasted no time tackling the subject, addressing the issue at the start of a news conference to present the company's results.

SoftBank logged an eight-fold jump in net profit in the six months to September -- thanks mainly to strong returns from its investment funds.

Net profit rose to 840 billion yen ($7.4 billion) from 103 billion yen during the same period last year.

The rise was largely driven by gains of 649 billion yen from the SoftBank Vision Fund, which compared with 194 billion yen in the previous period.

Operating profit shot up 62 percent to 1.42 trillion yen on revenue of 4.65 trillion yen, up 5.5 percent.

SoftBank has also made high-profile investments in the autonomous vehicles sector, announcing last month a tie-up with car giant Toyota for "new mobility services" such as meal deliveries.

Earlier this year, General Motors said the Japanese firm was investing $2.25 billion in GM's autonomous car programme in exchange for a stake in the venture.

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