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US Corporate Leaders to Attend Saudi Conference One Year After Khashoggi Murder

Larry Fink, CEO, BlackRock and Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE at the Financial Ttimes CNBC Nightcap, Davos in 2014. (Photo: FT)
Larry Fink (left), CEO, BlackRock and Duncan Niederauer, CEO, NYSE at the Financial Ttimes CNBC Nightcap, Davos in 2014. (Photo: FT)

“The greed of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and BlackRock is insatiable.”

Last year, top executives and investors protested the annual investment conference in Saudi Arabia known as ‘Davos in the Desert’ after the savage execution of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was revealed to have been ordered by Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.

Although Wednesday marks the one year anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, Wall Street appears to have warmed back up to the Kingdom, with the Washington Post reporting that senior executives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Blackrock, Citigroup, and other major firms are slated to attend this year’s conference.

“It’s not a principled stance for businesses to stand against the Saudi murderers of Jamal Khashoggi until they hope people have forgotten about him (which in any event they haven’t),” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

Last October, Blackrock CEO Larry Fink was one of many executives who made a big deal out of refusing to attend Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, also known as Davos in the Desert. Last November, Fink was honored by the International Rescue Committee with the charity’s Humanitarian Award for his supposedly principled stance.

Critics believe Fink and other CEO’s were merely protecting their brands from bad PR in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder last year, and have judged that international outcry has now quieted enough to continue pursuing profits in the Kingdom.

“The greed of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and BlackRock is insatiable,” tweeted Senator Bernie Sanders. “Who cares if the Saudis are starving millions of Yemeni civilians or that our planet faces a climate emergency? Profiting off of $1.5 trillion in Saudi oil is just too important.”

The conference is scheduled to take place at the same Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh where bin-Salman imprisoned hundreds of rival Saudi leaders last year in a move to solidify his power over the country.

“More than 150 executives have confirmed their attendance, the list shows, including more than 40 executives representing U.S. companies,” according to the Washington Post. “The head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund was attending, along with other executives who represent major banks, tech companies, business conglomerates and defense contractors from China, India, the United Arab Emirates and several European states.”

An invitation letter reviewed by the Post boasted of the ‘unparalleled networking among CEOs, world leaders, and experts,’ the event will offer.

Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose close relationship with bin Salman has emboldened the prince to claim he has Kushner “in his pocket“, is reported to lead the US delegation to the conference. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who pulled out last year, may also attend, as per the Post.

The Washington Post speculates that beyond arms deals and investment from the kingdom’s $320 billion sovereign wealth fund, corporate executives are especially interested in the coming initial public offering for Saudi national oil company Aramco, which is estimated to have a valuation between $1.5 and $2 trillion. JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are among the top banks the Kingdom has chosen to underwrite the listing, whose top executives are scheduled to attend the conference.

Critics argue the quiet enthusiasm of top US firms in pursuing business with the authoritarian Saudi monarchy shows the moral bankruptcy of modern globalized capitalism. Additionally, while CEOs like JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon publicly call for action on climate change, they spend hundreds of billions financing new fossil fuel production and compete for advisory roles at Saudi Aramco despite the seriousness of the climate crisis and the crimes of the crown prince.

“Saudi Arabia must not be allowed to cover up this murder and go about business as usual, detaining and harassing its critics,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The U.S. must make public what the intelligence community knew about threats to Khashoggi and who it has determined is responsible for his murder.


Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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