RIYADH (AFP) - Top finance moguls and political leaders attended a Davos-style Saudi investment summit yesterday, in stark contrast to last year when outrage over critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder sparked a mass boycott.
Organisers say 300 speakers from over 30 countries, including American officials and heads of global banks and major sovereign wealth funds, are attending the three-day Future Investment Initiative (FII), nicknamed “Davos in the desert”.
A strong turnout at the annual conference, aimed at projecting the insular kingdom as a dynamic investment destination, will help repair de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s global image that was tainted by Khashoggi’s killing last October.
“I have been coming to Saudi Arabia for 20 years but what I have been seeing particularly in the past two or three years is (economic) transformation,” Indian tycoon Mukesh Ambani told the conference, lauding the kingdom’s leaders. “As a businessman and as an investor I’m all in.”
The murder at Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate triggered one of the top crude exporter’s worst crises and prompted a wave of business and political leaders to pull out of the 2018 conference at the last minute. But the event is set for a reboot this year as global outrage fades.
“More than 6,000 executives and participants are attending,” said Yasir al-Rumayyan, chief of the kingdom’s vast Public Investment Fund which organised
“This is more than double the first FII. The growth has been incredible.”
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, leaders of key emerging markets, are set to speak along with King Abdullah II of Jordan and four African leaders.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leads a high-powered American delegation that includes Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior advisor to President Donald Trump.
The CEOs of asset management firms Blackstone and SoftBank, as well as chairs of the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait, UAE, Singapore and Russia are also expected to attend.
Top executives from blue chips Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, both working on the much-anticipated flotation of state oil behemoth Saudi Aramco, are on a long list of global bank representatives at the forum.