Editor’s Note: This story was originally published October 22, 2018
Richard Branson has stepped down as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, the transportation company he became involved with last year.
The company and Branson announced the news Monday amid tensions between the prominent investor and Saudi Arabia. Branson recently said he would suspend talks with the kingdom about investments there following the disappearance and death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Branson said at the time that the case, “if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government.”
A Virgin spokesman characterized Branson’s departure from the Hyperloop One board as unrelated to Saudi Arabia, adding that the plan always was for Branson to spend a short time stabilizing the company.
Virgin Hyperloop One has also already done business with the Saudi government. Earlier this year, the company said it would work with the kingdom to bring its technology there.
Virgin Hyperloop One did not answer a question Monday from CNN Business about whether the Saudi Arabia hyperloop deal was affected by Branson’s comments.
Khashoggi was seen Oct. 2 walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia initially denied involvement, but now claims the Washington Post columnist died in a fistfight involving more than a dozen Saudi officials.
Branson joined the Los Angeles-based startup Hyperloop One last December, and it was renamed Virgin Hyperloop One. The company is developing a transportation concept in which pods travel at hundreds of miles per hour in a vacuum tube. Advocates believe it will be even faster than air travel.
In a statement, Branson said it was the first time in more than 20 years that he’d taken on a chairman’s role.
“At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on chair, who can focus on the business and these opportunities,” Branson said in the statement. “It will be difficult for me to fulfill that commitment as I already devote significant time to my philanthropic ventures and the many business within the Virgin Group.”
Branson’s seat on the board will be filled by Virgin executive Patrick McCall.