RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is expected to address an investment forum on Wednesday that has been overshadowed by the outcry over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a day after Turkey urged Riyadh to search “top to bottom” for those responsible.
The kingdom has come under increasing pressure in the crisis that has strained its ties with key Western allies. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever” in Khashoggi’s death as the United States vowed to revoke the visas of some of the Saudi suspects.
Dozens of Western politicians, top world bankers and company executives boycotted this year’s Future Investment Initiative conference that opened in Riyadh on Tuesday, but the world’s largest oil exporter showed it could still do business by signing deals worth $50 billion on the first day.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler and architect of its reform drive, had briefly appeared at the venue, declaring the event as “great – more people more money”, but did not address the conference.
The prince, known as MbS, arrived after attending a meeting at which his father and strongest supporter King Salman received members of Khashoggi’s family, including his son Salah. State news agency SPA published pictures of the meeting, including one of the crown prince shaking hands with Salah, who seemed ill at ease.
MbS is scheduled to speak in a panel in the late afternoon on Wednesday. The prince told Bloomberg earlier this month that Riyadh would announce an “amazing deal” at FII this year, where the mood has been subdued compared to the 2017 inaugural event.
Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, vanished after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2. After Riyadh first denied any involvement in his disappearance, a Saudi official eventually attributed the death to a chokehold.
Turkey’s president, Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday dismissed Saudi efforts to blame Khashoggi’s death on rogue operatives, calling the operation a planned, “savage killing”, and demanded Riyadh punish those responsible, no matter how highly placed.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had identified some of the Saudi government and security officials it believed were involved in Khashoggi’s murder and would take appropriate actions including revoking U.S. visas.
Despite the boycott by big hitters, including in Wall Street, of the investment conference, some senior international bankers were in Riyadh in a sign that global banks were reluctant to walk away from lucrative Saudi deals.
Saudi finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, met the chief executive of HSBC’s global banking and markets’ unit and the deputy chairman of Japan’s biggest lender MUFG to discuss investment opportunities, the ministry said in Twitter posts.
Russia sent a large delegation to FII led by Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev. He said on Tuesday that while Khashoggi’s killing needed to be investigated and the culprits punished, the Saudi drive for economic and social reforms could not be ignored.