DAVOS IN THE DESERT

Updated: The complete list of CEOs boycotting Saudi Arabia’s “Davos in the Desert” conference

US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin bailed on Oct. 18.
US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin bailed on Oct. 18.
Image: Reuters/Marcos Brindicci
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Updated Oct. 20 at 10:22am EDT. 

Journalists, investors, and some CEOs have pulled out of a three-day financial conference in Riyadh dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” after the Saudi government was accused of murdering Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The conference, which starts Oct. 23, promised to be a “blueprint for the twenty-second century.” It is hosted by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, and cosponsored by corporate giants like HSBC, Mastercard, and Uber. Over 3,800 people have registered to come and nearly 200 speakers are expected.

The Saudi royal family controls the Saudi government, which has massive investments and substantial partnerships in everything from US universities to global oil companies to Washington, DC think tanks. Foreign companies and CEOs pulling out of the upcoming conference is a warning that they could cut other ties as well.

Who’s withdrawn from the Future Investment Initiative so far

  • CNN said today it has “withdrawn its participation.”
  • CNBC will no longer participate “due to the continuing questions surrounding the disappearance” of Khashoggi.
  • The Financial Times
  • Bloomberg has reportedly also withdrawn its sponsorship
  • The Economist editor Zanny Minton Beddoes dropped out of a panel.
  • The New York Times
  • The LA Times 
  • Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Oct. 12 he will no longer attend “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges.”
  • Steve Case, the venture capitalist and AOL co-founder has “put his plans on hold, pending further information” about Khashoggi.
  • Viacom CEO Bob Bakish will no longer appear on a panel.
  • World Bank president Jim Yong Kim will no longer attend.
  • JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon will no longer be attending, the bank said on Oct. 14.
  • Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motor, also said he won’t attend on the 14th.
  • Ajay Banga, the Mastercard CEO, has pulled out, the company told Quartz.
  • HSBC’s CEO John Flint will no longer attend, a spokesperson said Oct. 16.
  • General David Petraeus, former CIA director, now chairman of investment firm KKR, will no longer attend, nor will any KKR employees, a spokeswoman for the private equity firm told Quartz Oct. 16.
  • Larry Fink of BlackRock is no longer attending, but said Oct. 16 he plans to keep doing business in Saudi Arabia.
  • BNP Paribas CEO Jean Lemierre said Oct. 16 he would no longer attend.
  • Steve Mnuchin, US Treasury Secretary said Oct. 18 that he would no longer attend, after speaking to Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
  • Dina Powell, Goldman Sachs. The former US National Security official pulled out Oct. 18, along with Sheila Patel, the CEO of the bank’s international asset management group.
  • Fox Business. The news outlet was the last US news outlet to pull out of the conference, on Oct. 18. Anchor Maria Bartiromo may still attend if she gets an interview with the crown prince.
  • Australia. More than a week after the first participants began to pull out, Australia announced on Oct. 20 that it would not attend the conference, citing Saudi Arabia’s admission that Khashoggi had indeed died inside its consulate.

Khashoggi, a one-time supporter of the Crown Prince who has turned carefully critical in his Washington Post columns, was murdered in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Istanbul, allege Turkish authorities. His body was dismembered there with a bone saw and removed in pieces, they say. The Saudi ambassador to the US told Axios that reports that “the Kingdom’s authorities have detained [Khashoggi] or killed him are absolutely false, and baseless.”

The conference’s program featured panelists and speakers by name until Friday morning, when they were wiped from the schedule. Many of the financial conference’s biggest sponsors have not dropped out, particularly the big international banks who do massive business with the Saudi family, and are “strategic partners” of the event. Neither have US officials.

Who has reportedly withdrawn, but not said so publicly

Some CEOs had hoped to pressure the Saudi government into postponing the event by threatening not to attend, CNBC reported October 14. There’s a clutch of private equity firms and banks privately telling reporters their top brass won’t attend, but the companies have not put out any public statement.

  • Stephen Schwarzman, of Blackstone won’t attend, reports say, but the company has no public statement.
  • Bill Winters, the Standard Chartered CEO is reportedly not attending.
  • Tidjane Thiam, the Credit Suisse CEO, won’t attend, anonymous sources say.

Who is still going to the Future Investment Initiative

  • Christine Lagarde, IMF president, is still a scheduled speaker; she said Oct. 13 she planned to “speak her mind” in Riyadh.
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Siemens AG 
  • Deloitte, E&Y, Boston Consulting, McKinsey, PWC are all still “knowledge partners” of the conference, according to the website.
  • Anthony Scaramucci. The short-lived White House communications director will attend with his hedge fund, Skybridge, he said Oct. 18.

This story has been updated multiple times with new cancellations.