- Dozens of businesses and leading executives boycotted Saudi Arabia’s annual investment conference last year, following the brutal murder of journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
- Trump administration officials, Virgin Group, BlackRock, Blackstone, and many others shunned the event and many vowed not to contribute to Saudi Arabia’s economic development as questions surrounding Khashoggi’s disappearance remained unanswered.
- One year after his brutal murder, there are now audio recordings, Saudi admissions, and a 100-page UN report that reveal stunning details about the Kingdom’s alleged role in the execution plot and its extensive cover up attempts.
- Despite this, many of the businesses and officials who distanced themselves from the event last year were in attendance this year, casting aside any political apprehension.
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Dozens of businesses and individuals distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia’s annual investment conference last year in response to the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In the weeks leading up to last year’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) forum in Riyadh, also referred to as Davos in the Desert, details about Khashoggi’s disappearance and subsequent murder were sparse but were enough to trigger international backlash and evoke strong responses from the world’s leading business and finance firms.
Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Group pulled out of attending the three-day conference and promised to suspend ties with Saudi Arabia because of the Khashoggi case. The company planned to partner with Saudi Arabia on a massive, high-speed pneumatic transit system, and Branson suspended a $1 billion investment into his space company, Virgin Galactic, from Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund.
Trump administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, boycotted the event over bipartisan backlash to the Saudi kingdom’s suspected role in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Larry Fink, BlackRock’s billionaire CEO, reportedly pressed Saudi officials to postpone the event but later decided to drop out given the political climate. Steve Schwarzman, CEO of The Blackstone Group, reportedly acted in a similar manner before pulling out too.
One year after his brutal murder, there are now audio recordings, Saudi admissions, and a 100-page UN report that reveal stunning details about the Kingdom’s alleged role in the execution plot and its extensive cover up attempts.
150 executives said they’d be there this year
But remnants of last year’s outrage seemed to have dissipated on Tuesday, as scores of global executives and political leaders descended upon the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh for this year’s conference. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, which organized the event, said that 6,000 people registered to attend this year’s event, according to The New York Times.
In total, over 150 executives across the world confirmed their attendance.
“It’s always great to be in the kingdom,” Fink said during an opening panel, according to The Times. Schwarzman from the Blackstone Group, Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, and Michael Corbat, the head of Citigroup, were also in attendance.
Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Jay Walder said in promotional material for the event that he was “delighted” to attend and showcase the companies new initiatives. According to The Times, Virgin Hyperloop One even rented out a massive display board to endorse its projects in the Kingdom.
Trump administration officials were also in attendance. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, joined outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at the elaborate event.
According to The Times, Trump called Prince Mohammed bin Salman ahead of the conference and stressed the two nations’ “continued strong partnership.”
Former World Bank president Jim Yong Kim pulled out of last year’s conference, but this year the new president, David Malpass, chose to attend.
“I’m not sure what has changed since last year when the World Bank and the world community said we are not gong to be a party to corruption, harassment of dissidents and to extrajudicial killings,” Paul Cadario, a former World Bank senior manager, told The Times.
But for many attendees, the prospect of investing in Saudi Arabia’s emerging economy, which has seen vast cultural reforms over the last few years and ranks within the top 20 nations on earth in terms of annual gross domestic product, was enough to cast any political apprehension aside.