Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended Saudi Arabia’s investment conference, which was boycotted by world business leaders and politicians after the slaying of journalist and government critic Jamal Khashoggi.
The crown prince, who is suspected of being involved in the murder, arrived at the conference late in the day Tuesday and said as he toured the venue, "Great, more people, more money."
Saudi Arabia signed agreements Tuesday worth $50 billion, an indication the conference can still attract investment despite the swirl of controversy surrounding Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.
Many of the 2,000 people attending the conference applauded the kingdom's de facto leader as he entered the main hall, and he smiled as he sat down.
Boycotts of the kingdom’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh were in response to Khashoggi’s death and Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations about what happened. Among those absent were U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, along with the heads of such corporate giants as JP Morgan Chase.
The international backlash has cast a pall over the conference, marking a sharp contrast from last year’s sparkling inaugural event, created by Prince Mohammed to attract more foreign investment to help transform the oil-producing kingdom’s economy.
Prominent Saudi businesswoman Lubna Olayan defended her country in remarks at Tuesday’s opening session, calling Khashoggi’s killing “alien to our culture.”
Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, entered the consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain documents he needed for his upcoming marriage and was never seen again.
After staunchly denying Turkish media reports of Khashoggi’s death – including details of extreme torture – Saudi Arabia admitted just last week the writer died in the consulate during a “fistfight” with interrogators. His body reportedly was dismembered by a 15-member Saudi team sent to confront him.
The killing also has called attention to the recent crackdown on dissent carried out by Crown Prince Mohammed, the son and apparent successor of King Salman.