Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Friday that he’s still “planning on going” to a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia this month, despite growing public outcry surrounding the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
“We are concerned about what is the status of Mr. Khashoggi,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “Although I haven’t had direct conversation with the Saudis, I know other people within the executive branch have, and those discussions are underway. I am planning on going at this point. If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going.”
Several top executives and media companies have pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, scheduled for Oct. 23-25. The New York Times, the Economist and CNN also dropped out as media partners of the event, often dubbed “the Davos of the Desert.”
Friday morning, Bloomberg CEO Justin Smith pulled out of his planned speaking appearance, and said that the company would no longer be a media sponsor for the event. “Bloomberg will no longer serve as a media partner for the Future Investment Initiative and I will no longer be attending as a Speaker. As we do with every major event in the region, we plan to cover any news from our regional news bureau,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
The NBA’s Miami Heat also told TheWrap that Matt Jafarian, VP of digital strategy and innovation, has pulled out of his planned speaking appearance. “In light of recent events, we thought it prudent to withdraw our participation in the Future Investment Initiative,” said a team spokesperson.
Asked what advice he would give to fellow execs who are still weighing whether to attend the event, Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood financier said, “We all want information, so let’s wait and see what information comes out in the next week,” adding that Saudi Arabia has been “a very good partner” to the United States in several respects.
Once seen as on the precipice of a bright new future, Saudi Arabia is now facing accusations from senior Turkish government officials that they lured Khashoggi into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and murdered him with a 15-man hit team that then dismembered his body with a bone saw, The New York Times reported. Khashoggi has been a longtime regime dissident and most recently a sharp critic of their ongoing war in Yemen.
The kingdom has denied the accusations, but the latest reporting from CNN suggests that Turkey has both audio and video evidence to corroborate the claims.
Saudi Arabia’s reach into U.S. commercial life is extensive and the full ramifications of a broad-based boycott over Khashoggi may yet be on the horizon. Also Thursday, the WME parent company Endeavor said it was “assessing” their partnership with the kingdom as well. It is not yet clear what additional fallout will come from Hollywood.
Watch Mnuchin’s interview with CNBC above.