Oct 2, 2019

MBS' big bet on getting away with murder

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Future Investment Initiative last year. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

One year ago today, journalist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was then beaten, tortured, murdered, and dismembered.

Why it matters: Both politically and for most of corporate America, nothing has really changed in the last year — despite initial promises and action.

On the political side, President Trump pledged "to get to the bottom of it," and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised to "hold all of those responsible accountable."

  • Neither of those things happened. Nor has the White House publicly affirmed an 11 month-old CIA assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the assassination.

Corporate America, on the other hand, seemed at least willing to publicly shame MBS.

  • Dozens of top Wall Street and business executives canceled plans to attend a massive investment conference in Riyadh, nicknamed "Davos in the Desert" and hosted by MBS.
  • Among them were BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon, venture capitalist Steve Case, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.
  • All of the event's media sponsors also bailed, including both CNBC and FOX Business.

But apparently a year heals all wounds.

  • MBS is once again hosting his prized event, beginning on October 29, and he wouldn't have risked a repeat embarrassment.
  • BlackRock's Larry Fink is attending this time. Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat is also on the list, per The Washington Post. SoftBank simply isn't commenting on whether or not its CEO will be there.
  • The White House also will send a delegation, led by Jared Kushner. Last year, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin canceled, but then attended an anti-terrorism financing event that was expected to "include participation by Saudi security services under scrutiny in Khashoggi’s death."

The big picture: Most of these big companies never stopped doing business with the Saudis. Or, in the case of Wall Street, trying to get Saudi business. That's particularly true when it comes to deals like the upcoming Aramco IPO, which could be the largest global float of all time.

  • As we wrote at the time: It's much easier to bail on a conference than it is to unwind complex and lucrative business relationships.

The bottom line: MBS bet that Trump didn't care and that CEOs didn't care enough. He was right.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify the network name is FOX Business, not FOX Business Channel.

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