Jamal Khashoggi

Major companies refuse to boycott Saudi conference

Beyond England Daily news News

Executives from blue-chip companies will still attend a conference in Saudi Arabia next week despite a growing boycott over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Washington Post writer, a strong critic of the Saudi regime, was last seen entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2.

Turkish intelligence reports suggest he was killed there by a team sent from Riyadh on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi government has denied any involvement and promised a “full investigation” into Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Delegates and sponsors, including politicians and business leaders from around the world, have been withdrawing over the past week in protest.

But executives from companies including Goldman Sachs, Pepsi, Thales and EDF are still scheduled to attend.

The three-day conference is known as the ‘Davos of the Desert’ and attracts firms from around the world in search of lucrative business contracts in the Kingdom.

There were due to be 150 speakers from more than 140 businesses and organisations, but 30 have pulled out and more are expected to follow.

The event, organised by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, is sponsored by firms including McKinsey, PWC, Ernst & Young and Siemens.

Withdrawals include HSBC, Uber and the International Monetary Fund, as well as UK International Trade Minister Liam Fox and United States Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson has also brought negotiations over a £750m Saudi investment in his space programme to a halt.

A number of other companies and speakers are said to be reviewing their position, including German consulting firm Roland Berger.

The charity Amnesty International has urged companies to “think twice” before attending.

Amnesty Economic Affairs Programme Director Peter Frankental said they should consider the potential damage to their brands by going ahead.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it was up to individual companies to decide if they would attend or not.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks in Riyadh this week on Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

After meeting King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman he said they “strongly denied” any involvement.

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