Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Nicholas Gordon

Saudi Arabia discloses investment in dozens of VCs

(Credit: Courtesy of FII Institute)

The assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 chilled Saudi Arabia’s attempts to be a major tech player. Allegations that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents on the order of Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman led many tech companies to downplay investments from the country, if not publicly distance themselves from it.

Yet a disclosure on the website of Sanabil Investments, the venture arm of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, shows that Saudi money is going back into the tech sector. 

The webpage lists some of Sanabil Investments’ portfolio, including 18 startups, primarily based in Europe and the U.S., and almost 40 venture and growth funds, including Andreessen Horowitz, 500 Global and General Atlantic. The website does not disclose the size of Sanabil’s positions, nor if there are other investments not displayed on the page. It is also not immediately clear when the page was uploaded, but the earliest snapshot from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is from Monday.

Venture capital firms kept quiet about their placement on Sanabil’s website, either not responding to of declining requests for comment from The Information, which first reported the new Saudi disclosures. Only one firm, Village Global, responded, telling The Information that “we think highly of the team [at Sanabil].” Venture capital firms usually do not discuss the details of their limited partners. 

Sanabil Investments did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment for further details on the new webpage. Fortune has reached out to venture and growth firms on the list.

Saudi Arabia has invested in technology and other sectors in a bid to diversify the country’s economy away from oil. The PIF, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, was a backer of SoftBank’s Vision Fund, and invested $3.5 billion into ride-hailing firm Uber in 2016. Mohammed bin Salman also visited Silicon Valley in 2016 and April 2018, meeting CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai.

Some major figures in tech distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s murder. One was OpenAI’s Sam Altman, who said in 2018 that he was suspending his participation on the board of Neom, the megacity project in the Saudi Arabian desert funded by the PIF. 

Yet venture capital firms may now be a bit more comfortable with more publicly working with the Public Investment Fund. Both Marc Andreessen and Ben Horowitz, co-founders of Andreessen Horowitz, spoke at a Miami conference last week hosted by the Future Investment Initiative Institute, a non-profit founded by the PIF.

Where else is the Public Investment Fund putting its money?

The PIF is the world’s sixth-largest sovereign wealth fund, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, with $607 billion worth of assets under management. 

In 2021, the Public Investment Fund took over British football club Newcastle United F.C., and also backed LIV Golf, a competitor to the PGA Tour. Human rights groups accused both investments as acts of “sportswashing”—that is, attempts by Saudi Arabia to use sports competitions to repair its reputation after the Khashoggi assassination.

Both investments are now in the spotlight given a recent court case by LIV Golf players against PGA Tour, alleging anticompetitive behavior. Both the PIF and its chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan have argued in U.S. court that they should be protected from discovery due to sovereign immunity. (A U.S. judge has dismissed the claim, and Saudi Arabia is challenging the decision.)

Yet the claim that Al-Rumayyan is a Saudi government official is driving calls for a review of the PIF's ownership of Newcastle, due to assurances made by the fund that the Saudi state would be kept separate from the club's operations. (The Premier League’s chief executive declined to comment on the situation in a parliamentary hearing last Tuesday.) 

The PIF is also investing in the video game industry. In February, the PIF increased its stake in Nintendo to 8.3%, making it the largest outside shareholder in the Japanese game maker. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund also has stakes in at least six other major video game companies, including Capcom, Electronic Arts, and Take-Two Interactive, according to Bloomberg, and has also put $38 billion behind its own game company, Savvy Games Group.

Not every Saudi investment has worked out. Last October, the Public Investment Fund encouraged Saudi National Bank to invest $1.5 billion into Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

With the collapse of Credit Suisse—sparked in part by a blunt television answer from Saudi National Bank’s chairman—the value of that stake has plunged by $1.2 billion

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.