In October of 2022, a representative of The Oxford Union signed an agreement in principle with the Future Investment Initiative (FII) Institute, as reported by The Oxford Student. The think tank is a non-profit foundation “built on ESG principles with an investment arm and one agenda, impact on humanity”, according to its own website. It was, however, established in 2017 by the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia run by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

The FII Institute wrote on the 27th of October that they had “ended today with more than 28 investment deals and agreements, totalling over $9 billion”, following the 6th edition of the FII, a three-day conference in Riyadh. Among these deals, the FII Institute lists one such agreement with The Oxford Union.

According to the FII Institute, in a statement reproduced on other websites, this agreement “will provide members of the union with key data and information produced by the FII Institute and its partners” and was signed by the Institute’s Head of THINK, Safiye Kucukkaraca, and by the Oxford Union’s “Chair of Development Board”, Michael Li. The Oxford Union told The Blue that it “does not have a ‘Development Board’”.

Further, the FII Institute’s LinkedIn reports that “the FII Institute signed an agreement with Oxford Union which entitles collaboration on publications, research, events and an overarching strategy to engage the youth both at the University of Oxford and internationally on the most pressing global topics, helping identify, debate, and synthesise real-world solutions.” When asked for comment, The Oxford Union asserted that “The Oxford Union does not have an agreement with the FII”.

A photo was also posted on the Institute’s LinkedIn in order to announce the “new partnership”, in which Li and Kucukkaraca are pictured in front of the Oxford Union logo, signing a document. 

The photo was seemingly taken during Ahmad Nawaz’s Union Presidency, Michaelmas Term 2022. The Oxford Union confirmed to The Blue, however, that “[Mr Li] was asked by the MT-22 President-Elect, Mr Charlie Mackintosh, to explore potential collaborations with other organisations, including the FII Institute”. 

Michael Li possesses two roles at The Oxford Union, one being Chair of US Fundraising and the other sitting on the Bicentenary Committee. Those who also sit on the Bicentenary Committee include current President Matthew Dick and President-Elect Disha Hedge. 

The Oxford Union said in a comment to The Oxford Student that the photo was “customary and polite”, and used “to mark an interaction or a discussion […] in this instance to mark an agreement in principle to explore a partnership”. 

Despite the Union’s affirmation to The Blue that “The Oxford Union does not have an agreement with the FII”, it seems the phtoto was taken to “mark an agreement in principle to explore a partnership”, as stated by the Union to The Oxford Student.

The Oxford Blue reached out to Michael Li for comment, but did not receive a response. We also reached out to The FII Institute and Safiye, but similarly did not receive a response. However, in response to The Oxford Student, Kucukkucara commented that promoting the agreement was “a really good idea” and that she wanted the newspaper to work with the FII to “amplify the messaging”. After further messaging with The Oxford Student, the FII also confirmed that they had agreed an exploratory partnership with The Oxford Union for Hilary Term 2023, but did not respond to subsequent emails when asked for comment on The Oxford Union’s claim that they had never signed an agreement.

In response to the online statements put out by The FII Institute, The Oxford Union commented to The Oxford Blue, “We understand that there are press releases from the FII which contain conflicting information to that provided by the Oxford Union. We have contacted the FII to request amendments and they agreed to correct the errors in their press releases”. The Blue does not know what the amendments that the Union requested were. As of the time of publication, no such changes have occurred. 

The FII Institute was hit by a Western boycott over the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident journalist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Turkish authorities allege that he was killed by Saudi agents, whilst US intelligence agencies condemned Mohammed bin Salman for approving the murder of the Washington Post journalist. The Saudi Arabian crown vehemently deny involvement in this murder. At their 2018 conference, the FII was due to feature 150 high-profile speakers from 140 firms. Following Khashoggi’s death, the BBC understood that some 40 participants pulled out amid allegations that the country was behind Khashoggi’s killing.

In the Freedom House’s annual survey of political and civil rights, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia consistently places poorly. More recently, on 28th December 2020, the Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist to nearly two years in prison. According to Amnesty International most recently, “Over the past year, the Saudi authorities have escalated their brutal crackdown on individuals using online spaces to voice their opinions”, as Amnesty “documented the cases of 15 people who were sentenced in 2022 to prison terms of between ten and 45 years simply for peaceful online activities, including the longest sentence believed to ever be imposed on a Saudi woman for peaceful online expression.”

As stated on The Oxford Union’s website, “The Union continues to uphold the principle of free speech through the exchange and debate of a wide range of ideas and opinions”.