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Execs bailing on Saudi ‘Davos in the Desert’ in Wake of Journalist’s Murder

Execs bailing on Saudi ‘Davos in the Desert’ in Wake of Journalist’s Murder

Top business executives, U.S. and European officials and others have distanced themselves from Saudi Arabia over the disappearance and killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, with many canceling their attendance at this week’s investment conference that the kingdom had hoped to use to boost its global image.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin canceled late last week. 

With reports circulating of the writer’s torture and killing in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, executives who have been doing business with Saudi Arabia for years are in damage control mode. What was at first a trickle of cancellations from the Saudi event, due to be held in Riyadh Tuesday through Thursday, later snowballed.

The Future Investment Initiative was set up last year as a kind of “Davos in the Desert” for the world’s business elite to network, though it has no ties to the annual World Economic Forum summit in Davos.

At last year’s inaugural event, Saudi Arabia announced the creation of a whole new city in the desert that would showcase new technologies, such as renewable energies. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to refocus the Saudi economy away from its traditional reliance on oil by investing in more innovative industries, including big firms like Uber.

The scale of the executives’ cancelations, however, had raised questions whether the event would go ahead — and how that could affect longer-term business relations with Saudi Arabia.

Executives and officials who have canceled their attendance at the event:

  • U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
  • JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
  • Blackrock CEO Larry Fink
  • MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga
  • HSBC CEO John Flint
  • Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser
  • Standard Chartered CEO William Winters
  • London Stock Exchange CEO David Schwimmer
  • Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford
  • Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
  • Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong
  • New York Times Columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin
  • Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene
  • Former AOL CEO Steve Case
  • International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde
  • Virgin Group founder Richard Branson
  • Thrive CEO Arianna Huffington
  • World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
  • French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire
  • Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra
  • Britain’s trade minister, Liam Fox

Companies that withdrew as media partners to the conference:

  • New York Times
  • Financial Times
  • CNN
  • Bloomberg

Other organizations that have also cut ties with the Saudis in the wake of the Khashoggi case:

  • The Glover Park Group, The Harbour Group: Washington lobbying firms no longer representing Saudi Arabia
  • Middle East Institute: Washington think tank to no longer take Saudi donations

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