Around 40 key withdrawals by speakers and delegates for Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative conference, 23-25 October, (also known as ‘Davos in the desert’) did not stop the Saudis heralding the event as a facilitator for deals worth US$34bn.
Outcry over the death on 2 October of Jamal Kashoggi, who is believed to have been killed in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, resulted in many high profile pull-outs including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, International Monetary Fund MD Christine Lagarde and UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
Top executives from JP Morgan Chase, HSBC and Standard Chartered were among the leading bankers who withdrew from the conference.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Chief Executive of Uber, was another among the withdrawals, despite the Saudi sovereign wealth fund being a key shareholder in the business.
However, CNN listed those attending and said attendance was still in the thousands. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil group announced more than a dozen memoranda of understanding had been signed worth a total of US$34bn.
Many of the conference hall’s potentially 40 ‘empty seats’ were filled by extra Russian and Chinese delegates.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met representatives of Russian business, including Kirill Dmitriev, Chief Executive of the US$10bn Russian sovereign wealth fund, for two hours on 23 October.
Dmitriev called the Khashoggi murder “a terrible tragedy” but said that it should not interfere with business between the two nations.
He said Russia supported the Crown Prince’s economic reforms.
Saudi Arabia and Russia had already announced a joint US$1bn investment project – thought to be natural gas related – before the murder came to light.