Investors, global leaders and CEOs from some of the world’s biggest banks returned to Saudi Arabia this week for an investment forum that a slew of executives boycotted last year after the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Lured by the long-awaited public offering of shares in Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s massive oil company, financiers flocked to the capital of Riyadh for the Future Investment Initiative -- known as “Davos in the desert” -- which started on Tuesday. Saudi state media reported that shares of Aramco, for which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking a $2 trillion valuation, will trade on Riyadh’s stock exchange in December.
Money raised from the stock sale, which will likely go on record as the largest in the world, will be invested in the crown prince’s ambitious redevelopment plans for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom began the financial summit in 2017 to raise the interest of foreign investors in its Public Investment Fund -- a linchpin of the government's initiative to modernize the economy.
During this year's conference, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner is slated to speak about what’s next for the U.S. on a panel moderated by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, according to a schedule. Kushner will attend the conference alongside Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who plans to step down on Dec. 1.
Other attendees include Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam, SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son and BlackRock CEO Larry Fink.
Fallout from the killing of Khashoggi, which a recent United Nations report and U.S. officials have linked to the crown prince, prompted many executives to skip the conference in 2018. Khashoggi had been a frequent critic of Prince Mohammed, who had ties to some of the assassins, according to the Associated Press.
Last month, Prince Mohammed told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he took “full responsibility” for Khashoggi’s death, but claimed that it was “absolutely untrue” he ordered the slaying.
A number of financial leaders are still giving the conference a pass, however, including International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgiva, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.