A three-day international investment conference has started in Saudi Arabia to help the nation overcome its dependence on oil revenues. The meeting got off to a bumpy start amid a major Saudi image crisis.
A major Saudi business conference opened in Riyadh on Tuesday morning, with the Future Investment Initiative (FII) overshadowed by the death of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The three-day event is meant to project Saudi Arabia as a lucrative business destination as it seeks to lessen its dependence on oil revenues and sets the stage for new ventures and multibillion-dollar contracts.
Speaking to conference participants on Tuesday, Saudi Arabian billionaire Lubna Olayan said she was confident that the government could resolve the affair surrounding the killing of the journalist.
"I want to tell all our foreign guests that the terrible acts reported in recent weeks are alien to our culture; I'm sure that we will emerge stronger."
With the full details of Khashoggi's death still unknown, many high-profile business leaders had in recent days pulled out of the conference, among them JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, HSBC chief John Flint, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink and the head of German engineering giant Siemens, Joe Kaeser, who only on Monday announced he'd stay away from the meeting.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde are also skipping the event.
By contrast, the CEO of French oil major Total, Patrick Pouyanne, is in Riyadh, saying in a statement that "an empty-chairs-at the-table strategy serves no useful purpose."
In another setback, though, the investment conference's website went down on Monday in what appeared to be a cyberattack. A message showed up accusing Riyadh of "barbaric and inhuman action, such as killing its own citizen Khashoggi and thousands of innocent people in Yemen."
This year's conference contrasts with the 2017 FII which was a star-studded event where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was celebrated as a visionary as he talked about the nation's plans to build a futuristic megacity dubbed Neom, to be located on the kingdom's northwestern coast by the Red Sea.
Despite many major pullouts this year, many Western companies feel they have too much at stake to completely abandon the Arab world's major economy and have sent lower-level representatives to the Riyadh gathering.
hg/tr (Reuters, AFP, dpa)