Saudi Arabia dismissed the protests for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and went ahead with an investment conference boycotted by Western political figures, leading international bankers and top-notch executives.
The three-day conference, a creation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is under intense scrutiny over Khashoggi's murder, began on Tuesday.
The Future Investment Initiative (FII), dubbed "Davos in the desert", will be held in the capital, Riyadh, as part of Bin Salman's much-touted Vision 2030 and is aimed at attracting foreign investments in the kingdom that depend largely from oil revenues.
Analysts say that the high vision of the Saudi economy is largely based on the country's ability to attract foreign direct investment and create enough jobs for the next generation of young Saudis who will enter the labor market in the coming years.
According to management consultant McKinsey and Co, Riyadh needs to invest about four trillion dollars to create 6 million new jobs for Saudis by 2030.
That's almost three times as many jobs as Saudi Arabia created in the decade before 2013, when oil prices soared.
But with the Saudi authorities admitting Khashoggi's murder, the summit has been overshadowed by a series of high-profile assistants who dropped out of school.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the ministers of Great Britain and France withdrew from the event along with the CEOs or presidents of a dozen large financial firms such as JP Morgan Chase and HSBC, and the director of the Monetary Fund International, Christine Lagarde.
SoftBank Group Corp Chief Executive Masayoshi Son also canceled a speech at the conference but could still attend, the Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday, citing a conference representative.
Nearly half of the more than $ 93 billion raised last year to create the SoftBank Vision Fund came from Saudi Arabia.
Many Western banks and other companies, fearful of losing business, such as tariffs obtained by arranging deals for Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund of $ 250 billion, sent executives at lower levels even when their main people stayed away. .
& # 39; Acute public relations crisis & # 39;
This year's conference contrasts with the inaugural FII last year, where the crown prince was hailed as a visionary, captivating investors with talking robots and plans for a futuristic mega city.
Crown Prince bin Salman, known as MBS, faces what the risk consultancy Eurasia Group has called "a serious public relations crisis" for Khashoggi's murder.
After more than two weeks of vehement denials, Saudi Arabia admitted last week that Khashoggi was killed at the consulate.
In recent weeks, Turkish media and officials who spoke with international media said that the audio recordings show that Khashoggi was tortured before being beheaded, although no concrete evidence of his existence has emerged.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that the killing of a critic "should never happen again," as he promised an "exhaustive and complete" investigation into the journalist's murder.
Khashoggi's murder follows the pattern of a recent crackdown on dissent in the kingdom, with MBS, the son of King Salman and the de facto ruler, arresting Muslim leaders, high-flying companies and women's rights activists. .
In addition to stoking investor anxiety, the kingdom is embroiled in a devastating war in Yemen and is leading an embargo against neighboring Qatar.
Riyadh has also participated in diplomatic disputes with Germany and Canada that have threatened commercial ties.