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Saudi finance conference: Now IMF chief Lagarde says she's not going to attend

Christine Lagarde joins a growing list of people and organisations opting out of Saudi's upcoming investment conference
File photo of International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde (AFP)

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde has deferred a planned trip to the Middle East, which included a stop in Riyadh to attend the “Davos in the desert” investment conference, the IMF said in a statement on Tuesday.

On Saturday, Lagarde told a news conference in Indonesia that she did not intend to change her travel plans, but was "horrified" by media reports about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was missing after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"The managing director’s previously scheduled trip to the Middle East region is being deferred," an IMF spokesperson said in a statement without giving a reason why Lagarde changed her mind.

Jamal Khashoggi, an insider-turned-critic of the conservative monarchy, was last seen on 2 October when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to sort out marriage paperwork.

Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.

Media companies, executives quit Saudi event over missing journalist
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Media companies, including the New York Times and CNN, have pulled out of the investment conference because of growing outrage over Khashoggi’s disappearance.

British billionaire Richard Branson has also announced that his Virgin Group would suspend its discussions with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund over a planned $1bn investment in the group's space ventures in light of Khashoggi's disappearance.

This year's event has attracted some of the world's business elite including Wall Street's top bosses and executives from multinational media, tech and financial services companies.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven called Tuesday for a "transparent" probe into the disappearance of Khashoggi, saying they were "very troubled" by the case.

"We, the G7 foreign ministers, of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the high representative of the European Union, affirm our commitment to defending freedom of expression and protection of a free press," read a statement.

"We remain very troubled by the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," added the statement by Canada, which currently holds the presidency of the group of industrial democracies.

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