As many as 20 international firms have pulled out of a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia as more incriminating evidence of the alleged killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi emerges. The business community's boycott has added to the mounting pressure on the US to act but President Donald Trump offered his most robust defence of Riyadh since the disappearance of Khashoggi while sending his Secretary of State on a fact finding mission.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu today to discuss the disappearance of the Saudi journalist, as pressure mounted on Riyadh to provide answers following allegations that he had been killed by Saudi agents on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Pompeo was dispatched by US President Donald Trump in a fact finding mission to Riyadh and Ankara while criticising the international outrage over the disappearance Jamal Khashoggi and proposing a theory surrounding his death that has been denounced as preposterous. Following a conversation with the Bin Salman Trump reached the conclusion that "rogue killers" may have been responsible for the killing.
Trump has compared the controversy around Saudi Arabia after being accused of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi to Brett Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault. "I think we have to find out what happened first," he said. "Here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent. I don't like that."
Criticising the rapidly mounting global condemnation of the kingdom for allegedly murdering the journalist, Trump said: "We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I'm concerned."
The CNN list of those pulling out includes:
- JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon
- Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford
- Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi
- Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman
- Blackrock CEO Larry Fink
- Blackrock CEO Larry Fink
- MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga
- Viacom CEO Bob Bakish
- HSBC CEO John Flint
- Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam
- BNP Paribas Chairman Jean Lemierre
- Standard Chartered CEO William Winters
- London Stock Exchange CEO David Schwimmer
- IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde
- Thrive CEO Ariana Huffington
- Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene
- Sinovation Ventures CEO Kai-Fu Lee
- World Bank President Jim Yong Kim
- Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong
- Economist Editor-in-Chief Zanny Minton Beddoes
- New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin
While Trump offered his most robust defence of the Saudis, further details of what looks like state sanctioned killing of Khashoggi within the Saudi consulate has emerged. A Turkish source who has listened in full to an audio recording of the Saudi journalist's last moments told Middle East Eye that he had been killed within seven minutes of entering the Saudi consulate.
Khashoggi is reported to have been dragged from the consul-general's office at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and onto the table of his study next door. Horrendous screams were then heard by a witness downstairs. The screaming stopped after Khashoggi is said to have been injected with an as yet unknown substance.
After sedating Khashoggi his body was cut into pieces by Salah Muhammad Al-Tubaigy, who has been identified as the head of forensic evidence in the Saudi general security department. He is one of the 15-member squad who arrived in Ankara earlier that day on a private jet.
Meanwhile, another prominent figure has joined a long list of individuals and companies to pull out of the high-profile Saudi investor conference next week. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director Christine Lagarde who had initially told a news conference on Saturday she was "horrified" by reports regarding Khashoggi's disappearance but did not intend to change her travel plans, has now "deferred" her trip.
READ: Trump gives Saudi Arabia benefit of doubt in journalist's disappearance
Without giving a specific reason an IMF spokesperson said today that "the managing director's previously scheduled trip to the Middle East region is being deferred."
Lagarde is the latest in a long line of speakers and attendees to withdraw from the three-day event touted as "Davos in the dessert". Some of the biggest names in global business and finance to have cancelled plans to attend the investment conference include: JP Morgan (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, Top executives at Ford (F) and MasterCard (MA) have also pulled out, and Google (GOOGL) said Tuesday that the head of its cloud computing business wouldn't participate in the event either.
Other European Banks to pull out include the CEOs of HSBC, Credit Suisse (CS) and Standard Chartered (SCBFF). They were joined today by the chairman of BNP Paribas (BNPQY), France's biggest bank.
Riyadh reacted in a bullish manner by pulling a planned deal with Virgin Hyperloop One after Sir Richard Branson said he would freeze ties with the kingdom until more details are known about the disappearance.
READ: Saudi Arabia cancels annual diplomatic reception in Washington
The Financial Times reported that the two sides were planning to sign a deal for a new feasibility study at a ceremony during the upcoming Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh. The deal would have focused on manufacturing, knowledge transfer and route alignments for the futuristic transport system.
In what may possibly be the biggest blow to the Saudis is the announcement that one of the largest investors in the kingdom is unlikely to invest a second $100 billion fund. Japanese multination SoftBank voiced its doubts about the likelihood of investing in the Vision fund for the first time, over the international furore surrounding Saudi Arabia.