Saudi investment forum opens amid Khashoggi controversy

A high-profile economic forum has got under way in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The Future Investment Initiative forum is the kingdom’s first major event on the world stage since the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

Mr Khashoggi’s death loomed large over the forum and coincided with Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s claim that Saudi officials murdered the journalist in their consulate after plotting his death for days.

The Turkish leader demanded the kingdom reveal the identities of all involved in the killing, regardless of rank.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling party in Ankara (AP Photo/Ali Unal)

Saudi Arabia, which for weeks maintained Mr Khashoggi had left the consulate, acknowledged on Saturday he was killed there in a “fistfight”.

Turkish media and officials say a 15-member Saudi team was flown in to kill Mr Khashoggi and accosted the writer in the consulate, cutting off his fingers before killing and dismembering the 59-year-old Washington Post columnist who wrote critically about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

As the Riyadh conference opened, Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih described the killing as “abhorrent” in his speech.

From the leadership on down, we're very upset at what has happened

The forum kicked off without some of its keynote speakers after numerous Western executives and officials cancelled plans to attend over Mr Khashoggi’s death.

“As we all know, these are difficult days for us in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” Mr Al-Falih said to attendees seated in the forum’s ornate hall.

“Nobody in the kingdom can justify it or explain it. From the leadership on down, we’re very upset at what has happened.”

The forum is the brainchild of Prince Mohammed and is aimed at drawing more foreign investment into the kingdom to help create desperately needed jobs for millions of young Saudis entering the workforce in the coming years.

The conference has been boycotted by some prominent global figures (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

International pressure is mounting against the prince, who did not attend the start of forum. Critics suspect the powerful crown prince ordered Mr Khashoggi’s killing or at the least had knowledge of it.

Despite the absence of key executives and speakers from the United States and other Western partners, some 50 billion US dollars in deals were signed on Tuesday at the forum with Russian and Asian businesses and officials eager to do business with the kingdom.

“Those partners who are here with us today to continue that journey with us are certainly going to look back and find out … how committed the kingdom is to its partners that stay the course,” Mr Al-Falih said, just moments before several deals were signed on stage.

The forum last year grabbed headlines when Prince Mohammed wowed the crowd of global business titans with pledges to lead the ultraconservative kingdom toward “moderate Islam”. He also announced plans to build a 500 billion dollar futuristic city in the desert.

- Press Association

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