Journalists, investors, and some CEOs have pulled out of a three-day financial conference in Riyadh dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the Saudi government was accused of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The conference, which starts Oct. 23, promised to be a “blueprint for the 20th century.” It is hosted by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, and cosponsored by corporate giants like HSBC, Mastercard, and Uber. Over 3,800 people have registered to come and nearly 200 speakers are expected.
The Saudi royal family controls the Saudi government, which has massive investments and substantial partnerships in everything from US universities to global oil companies to Washington, DC think tanks. Foreign companies and CEOs pulling out of the upcoming conference is a warning that they could cut other ties as well.
Who’s withdrawn from the Future Investment Initiative so far
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CNN said today it has “withdrawn its participation.”
CNBC will no longer participate “due to the continuing questions surrounding the disappearance” of Khashoggi.
The Financial Times
The Economist editor Zanny Minton Beddoes dropped out of a panel.
Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said he will no longer attend “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges.”
Steve Case, the venture capitalist and AOL co-founder has “put his plans on hold, pending further information” about Khashoggi.
Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will no longer appear on a panel.
The New York Times
The LA Times
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim will no longer attend.
Bloomberg has reportedly also withdrawn its sponsorship
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Khashoggi, a one-time supporter of the Crown Prince who has turned carefully critical in his Washington Post columns, was murdered in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, allege Turkish authorities. His body was dismembered there with a bone saw and removed in pieces, they say. The Saudi ambassador to the US told Axios that reports that “the Kingdom’s authorities have detained [Khashoggi] or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.”
The conference’s program featured panelists and speakers by name until Friday morning, when they were wiped from the schedule. Many of the financial conference’s biggest sponsors have not dropped out, particularly the big international banks who do massive business with the Saudi family, and are “strategic partners” of the event. Neither have US officials.
Who is still going to the Future Investment Initiative
Steve Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary, said on CNBC he was still “planning on going” unless new information emerges. Saudi has “been a very good partner,” he said.
Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan CEO, is a scheduled speaker according to a late September press release, and the bank has not announced any changes.
Larry Fink, Blackrock CEO, was a scheduled speaker, no changes have been announced.
Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone CEO, is also scheduled to speak.
General David Petraeus, former CIA director, is now chairman of investment firm KKR, and is a scheduled speaker.
Christine Lagarde, IMF president, is a scheduled speaker.
HSBC, Credit Suisse, Mastercard, Siemens are all still “strategic partners” of the conference, according to the website this morning.
Deloitte, E&Y, Boston Consulting, McKinley, PWC are all still “knowledge partners” of the conference, according to the website this morning.