Saudi crown prince makes brief appearance at investment forum

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has briefly attended a high-profile economic forum in Riyadh that was boycotted by global business chiefs and politicians after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Many in the audience of over 2,000 clapped or cheered as the prince, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, entered the main hall on Tuesday, smiling as he sat down next to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

The 33-year-old arrived at the forum late in the day after attending a meeting at which his father, King Salman, received members of Khashoggi’s family, including the journalist’s son Salah.

MBS said he was “satisfied” with the Future Investment Initiative as he toured the venue.

“Great, more people, more money,” the crown prince told reporters.

He left shortly afterwards, without delivering a speech.

The three-day conference, a brainchild of MBS, was the kingdom’s first major event since Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

Critics of the crown prince suspect he ordered the killing or, at least, had knowledge of it – a claim denied by Saudi officials.

The Saudi cabinet has promised to hold to account those who where responsible for Khashoggi’s death and those who “failed in their duties” in the case that has provoked an international furore and strained ties between Riyadh and its international allies.

Khashoggi, a critic of MBS, vanished after he entered Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2. After first denying any involvement in his disappearance, Riyadh said on Saturday Khashoggi died during a fight in the consulate. Later, a Saudi official attributed the death to a chokehold.

Many foreign investors see a risk that the Khashoggi case, which drew global condemnation, could damage Riyadh’s ties with Western governments.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior ministers from Britain and France pulled out of the event along with chief executives or chairmen of about a dozen big financial firms such as JP Morgan Chase and HSBC, and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who also withdrew from the event, said the firm was awaiting the full facts on Khashoggi’s case before deciding whether that would affect Saudi involvement in the ride-hailing service.

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