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Saudi Arabia to host investment conference amid global fallout over Khashoggi killing

After several cancellations, Russian and Asian executives will make up bulk of participants at Riyadh event, Wall Street Journal reports
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had hoped the Future Investment Conference would draw important global investors to the kingdom (Reuters/File photo)

As the global fallout over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi continues, Saudi Arabia’s beleaguered investment conference is going ahead as planned this week.

But what was meant to be an opportunity for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to draw international investors to the Gulf kingdom will instead be marked by how few high-profile companies and leaders actually show up.

On Monday, the chief executive of German engineering firm Siemens announced he would not attend the Future Investment Conference after Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul.

"Siemens has been a reliable partner to Saudi Arabia for decades and supports its great Vision 2030. But for now, the truth must be found and justice must be served," Joe Kaeser said in a statement posted on LinkedIn.

"Time will tell how things will develop. And I do hope there will be clarity, transparency, and justice sooner rather than later," he wrote.

The CEOs of JPMorgan Chase, Uber and Blackrock, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, the International Monetary Fund’s Christiane Lagarde, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim already cancelled their participation in the three-day conference, which begins Tuesday in Riyadh.

The event was originally co-sponsored by major Western media organisations - including Bloomberg, CNN, the New York Times and Fox Business News - but they all pulled out of the event, as well.

The finance ministers from France, the UK and the Netherlands also withdrew amid growing public pressure, as did US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, though he is expected to go to Saudi Arabia this week for an unrelated, anti-terror financing meeting.

On Monday, hackers appeared to have taken down the conference’s website, too.

Media companies, executives quit Saudi event over missing journalist
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Khashoggi, a Saudi insider-turned-critic who worked as a Washington Post columnist, was last seen on 2 October, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve paperwork for his planned marriage.

After over two weeks of denials and shifting stories about what happened, Saudi officials said on Friday that Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate after a fight broke out.

World leaders have poked holes in that explanation, however, saying it lacks credibility. Calls for an independent, United Nations-backed probe have only grown louder, as well, and Germany announced it would suspend arms sales to the Saudi government until the truth is revealed.

Fallout expands beyond conference

In the wake of so many high-profile cancellations, the Wall Street Journal reported that Russian and Asian executives will make up the bulk of the event participants.

For example, the Russian Direct Investment Fund has put together a delegation of “more than 30 leading Russian entrepreneurs and leaders of major Russian companies, as well as public figures,” the newspaper reported on Monday.

The heads of Abu Dhabi sovereign fund Mubadala and Dubai conglomerate Majid Al Futtaim are also newly listed as participants on panels at the three-day event.

The economic fallout of Khashoggi's case for the Saudis is not restricted to the beleaguered conference, however.

Saudi crown prince’s ‘reformer’ image fading fast amid Khashoggi crisis
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Also on Monday, the Guardian reported that Vue - one of the world’s largest cinema operators - has put plans to open over two dozen cinemas in Saudi Arabia on hold in light of Khashoggi’s death.

“We have delayed, but not pulled out,” Tim Richards, Rue’s CEO and founder, told the newspaper.

The UK-based cinema company did not immediately respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment on the decision Monday.

It reached a deal in February to build up to 30 cinemas in Saudi Arabia in collaboration with the Abdulmohsin al-Hokair property group.

“We are like a lot of leading companies around the world; we are watching and share the concerns that others do. This has all happened very quickly. We want to see what happens in the next few weeks and don’t want to make any kneejerk reactions,” Richards told the Guardian.

The agreement came after bin Salman announced plans to lift a longstanding ban on cinemas in the country, a move that led to several Western observers to describe MBS - as the crown prince is also known - as a "reformer".