Junior financial executives may still attend Saudi conference

Officials at the big banks may still send representatives to the controversial investment conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, despite growing evidence that the Saudi royal family has ties to the killer or killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, FOX Business Network has learned.

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Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Blackrock have not ruled out sending representatives to next week’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference according to interviews with officials at these companies. An official decision could be made sometime today, people at the banks tell Fox Business. 

This development comes as CEOs and other senior executives have decided not to take part in the conference amid the public backlash over the likely murder of Khashoggi and the likelihood that the killers have ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The reason, according to officials at these banks, the Saudi Royal family is just too big of a client to completely turn away from even if its crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has ties to the killers of Khashoggi, a frequent critic of the regime and a columnist for the Washington Post.

Of all the top financial firms, only private equity powerhouse Blackstone Group has decided to not send any representatives to the conference, Fox Business has learned.

Press officials for Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan declined comment. Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and Blackrock did not return a call for comment. 

Next week’s conference was initially labeled “Davos in the Desert” and organized by the Saudi Arabian government amid a precarious time for the Royal Family.

The country, despite its massive oil wealth is looking to diversify its economy, and its sovereign wealth is still planning a massive initial public offering to spur that process.

On the political front, Bin Salman took over as the country’s Crown Prince—its de facto ruler – June 2017. Bin Salman was once considered a reformer, but in November of that year, he placed under house arrest numerous ministers and royal family members in an attempt to consolidate power.

Amid the upheaval, Wall Street still looked at Saudi Arabia as a gold mine given its vast oil wealth and plans to use its riches to branch out into other businesses such as high tech.

The conference, scheduled to start on Monday, initially featured a who’s who of American high finance: CEOs including Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone, and Larry Fink of BlackRock were scheduled to speak before news broke of Khashoggi’s killing.

The Oct 2 disappearance and likely murder of Khashoggi put big banks in a bind. They needed to show some reaction to the killing while also maintaining close ties that would allow them to do business with the Royal Family.

With that, banks decided not to send CEOs; but behind the scenes banks were planning to send less prominent officials as an attempt to retain ties with the kingdom.

Typical of the issues faced by the banks was that of Goldman Sachs. Just today Goldman decided to pull the attendance of top executive and former Trump official Dina Powell. But the company has still not ruled out sending officials who are not senior executives as a way to maintain ties, Fox Business has learned. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan, Wells Fargo, and Blackrock are considering a similar move, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s decision on Thursday not to attend and public comments from President Trump about the seriousness of the situation has turned up the heat on banks even more.

FOX Business network had been reviewing its sponsorship and attendance. On Thursday it decided to pull completely out of the conference.