Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is expected to address an investment forum that has been overshadowed by the uproar over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The crown prince’s scheduled appearance comes a day after US President Donald Trump for the first time implied that bin Salman may have had a role in the killing of the journalist.
“Well, the prince is running things over there more so at this stage. He’s running things and so if anybody were going to be, it would be him,” the president said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
In separate comments on Tuesday, Trump said Saudi authorities had staged the “worst cover-up ever” in Khashoggi’s death as the US vowed to revoke the visas of some of the Saudi suspects.
Saudi Arabia has come under increasing pressure over the killing, which has also strained ties with other key Western allies.
Dozens of Western politicians, top world bankers and company executives boycotted this year’s Future Investment Initiative conference that opened in Riyadh on Tuesday, but the world’s largest oil exporter showed it could still do business by signing deals worth $50bn on the first day.
The forum is hosted at the Ritz-Carlton hotel where in 2017 bin Salman locked up dozens of Saudi Arabia’s most senior figures, accusing them of corruption. The New York Times reported that some of those held at the hotel were subjected to physical abuse during interrogation.
Bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, had briefly appeared at the venue on Tuesday, declaring the event as “great – more people, more money”, but did not address the conference.
The prince arrived after attending a meeting at which he and his father King Salman received members of Khashoggi’s family, including his son Salah.
The meeting prompted furore on social media, with pundits on Twitter reacting sharply to a photo released by the Saudi government showing Salah Khashoggi with a pained expression as he shook the hand of bin Salman.
The prince told Bloomberg earlier this month that Riyadh would announce an “amazing deal” at FII this year, where the mood has been subdued compared with the 2017 inaugural event.
Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, vanished after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. After Riyadh first denied any involvement in his disappearance, it eventually admitted its officials killed the journalist, attributing the death to a chokehold.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Tuesday dismissed Saudi efforts to blame Khashoggi’s death on rogue operatives, calling the operation a planned, “savage killing”, and demanded Riyadh punish those responsible, no matter how highly placed.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had identified some of the Saudi government and security officials it believed were involved in Khashoggi’s murder and would take appropriate actions including revoking US visas.
Despite the boycott by big hitters, including in Wall Street, of the investment conference, some senior international bankers were in Riyadh in a sign that global banks were reluctant to walk away from lucrative Saudi deals.
Saudi finance minister, Mohammed al-Jadaan, met the chief executive of HSBC’s global banking and markets’ unit and the deputy chairman of Japan‘s biggest lender MUFG to discuss investment opportunities, the ministry said in Twitter posts.
Russia sent a large delegation to the economic forum led by Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev.
He said on Tuesday that while Khashoggi’s killing needed to be investigated and the culprits punished, the Saudi drive for economic and social reforms could not be ignored.