Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a warm welcome in Riyadh Tuesday during his surprise visit to the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference. The conference has yielded investment deals worth an estimated US$50 billion despite calls for a boycott by activists and some countries over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A number of Western politicians, global business officials and companies hoping to avoid the public backlash over the Khashoggi case. However, Saudi Arabia is proving to be too tempting an investment opportunity for many businesses despite the large public outcry.
FII was due to feature 150 speakers from 140 firms but around 40 people withdrew from the conference in the wake of Khashoggi's murder.
Khashoggi, a journalist from Saudi Arabia, went into self-imposed exile to the United States after the Saudi crown prince began cracking down on dissidents. The Washington Post columnist visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and hasn't been seen since.
Turkish authorities pushed for an investigation claiming that Khashoggi had been murdered by Saudi authorities. After denying allegations for weeks, Saudi Arabia officially confirmed Khashoggi’s death Friday saying that he died during a brawl. On Saturday, the Saudi foreign minister said that it was a rogue operation and the crown prince had no knowledge of it.
Various companies, countries and media houses withdrew from the conference as a protest against the Saudi government.
Despite the boycott, the conference, a part of the kingdom’s 2030 Vision, which aims to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy and reduce its oil dependency, had many participants.
On Tuesday the Saudi cabinet, after a meeting headed by King Salman, promised to hold to account those who were responsible for Khashoggi’s death and those who “failed in their duties” in a case that has provoked an international furor and strained ties between Riyadh and the West.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from Britain and France pulled out of the event along with chief executives or chairmen of about a dozen big financial firms such as JP Morgan Chase and HSBC, and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.
After initially stating he believed the Saudi account of Khashoggi case, U.S. President Donald Trump for the first time suggested the crown prince and top Saudi officials may have been involved in the incident.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump was asked about the powerful crown prince's possible involvement in the murder.
"Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He's running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him," was the president’s response as reported by Al Jazeera Wednesday.
During the event, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced a US$500 billion investment in constrution of a city and business zone. While state-owned oil giant Aramco said Tuesday it had signed 15 agreements worth US$34 billion, with companies including Total, Hyundai, and Halliburton. The company said these entities were from eight countries, including the US, Japan, China, India, and the UAE.