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Frieze shareholder Endeavor returns $400m investment to Saudi Arabia

Sport and entertainment group severs ties with the kingdom’s leaders after murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi

Hollywood talent agency Endeavor (formerly WME-IMG) bought a stake in Frieze in 2016 Courtesy of Paramount

Endeavor, the Hollywood sport and entertainment conglomerate that bought a reported 70% stake in Frieze in 2016, has returned a $400m investment by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, according to the New York Times.

The deal was struck in April 2018 and gave the Saudi kingdom’s Public Investment Fund an equity stake of less than 10% in Endeavor. But, following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, Ariel Emanuel, the chief executive of the US firm, took action to try and revoke the agreement.

It was hoped Endeavor’s relationship with Saudi leaders would have been severed before the launch of Frieze Los Angeles last month, but the legal process proved complex. Frieze declined to comment on the matter, but the New York Times reports that the $400m hole has been filled by existing Endeavor investors. Emmanuel has also said he cannot speak out “for legal reasons”.

Emanuel is among a handful of corporate leaders to cut ties with Saudi including Richard Branson, the founder of the British Virgin Group. Saudi has been wooing Hollywood for several years in a bid to modernise its image, with AMC, Imax and World Wrestling Entertainment all doing business with the Saudi government.

However, calls are growing for more companies to take a stand, not only in light of Khashoggi’s murder but also over the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times, and a poor track record on human rights.