London-based Vue International, the largest movie exhibitor outside of the U.S., has put its plans to open multiplexes in Saudi Arabia on temporary hold in the wake of the global scandal surrounding the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The company had signed an exclusive preliminary agreement in February with the Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Holding real-estate group to jointly build up to 30 multiplexes in Saudi Arabia, leading the way among exhibitors making inroads in the region after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas in December 2017.
Vue chief executive and founder Tim Richards told the Guardian newspaper Monday that “we have delayed, but not pulled out” of Saudi Arabia, adding that, like a lot of leading companies around the world, “we are watching and share the concerns that others do.” “We want to see what happens in the next few weeks and don’t want to make any knee-jerk reactions,” he said.
Richards also told the Guardian that, like many other Western executives, he would not be attending a major economic forum, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday and currently has no further trips to Saudi planned.
Khashoggi disappeared Oct. 2 during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. The Saudi government, which is effectively under the rule of the crown prince, vehemently denied any involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance before acknowledging over the weekend that the journalist – a frequent critic of the prince – had been killed inside the consulate, as the Turkish government repeatedly alleged. Saudi officials called it a “rogue operation,” but Western officials have demanded answers.
The kingdom also has a similar agreement in place with U.S. exhibitor AMC, which pacted with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to build up to 40 cinemas, the first of which opened in April in Riyadh. AMC has been keeping mum on its plans following Khashoggi’s killing.
SRMG, a Saudi Arabian publishing and media company which is publicly traded, remains a minority investor in PMC, Variety’s parent company.