The managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, has become the latest figure to pull out of a major conference in Saudi Arabia next week intended to enthuse global business and finance about the kingdom’s ambitious plans for new cities.
Her decision follows news that the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, and the policy chair of the City of London Corporation, had also withdrawn as anger and alarm mount over the alleged assassination of Saudi dissident and journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.
As cancellations piled up, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (pictured) flew to Saudi Arabia yesterday to confer with Saudi King Salman, and the de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Today Pompeo travelled to Turkey to meet with President Erdogan.
A spokesperson told the BBC today that Lagarde’s trip to the Middle East "is being deferred", without giving details.
Today the IMF chief was still listed as a headline speaker at the Future Investment Forum (FII), dubbed "Davos in the Desert", taking place 23-25 October in Riyadh.
Yesterday afternoon two more senior figures from the world of finance pulled out. They were London Stock Exchange chief executive David Schwimmer and Catherine McGuinness, policy chair for the City of London Corporation, reports CITY A.M.
They followed the defection yesterday of three major banks – HSBC, Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered – who joined World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, JPMorgan Chase, Mastercard and other financial services giants in cancelling their attendance at the event.
A statement from the City of London Corporation shows how its participation in the conference was tied to the UK government’s diplomatic overtures to the kingdom.
"The UK Government asked the City of London Corporation to be part of efforts to develop a long-term partnership with Saudi Arabia," a spokesperson for the Corporation told CITY A.M.
"As part of this work policy and resources chairman Catherine McGuinness was invited to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference to discuss asset management and financial services.
"However ahead of this conference we want to make clear our deep concern at the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.
"We support the UK Government’s call for the Saudi authorities to cooperate fully with investigators to deliver a clear and credible answer to the question of what happened. We will be raising these concerns with our Saudi counterparts.
"In the light of these developments the policy chairman will now not be attending the FII conference."
Turkey, meanwhile, is not relenting in its accusations against the Saudi regime. Today, a pro-government newspaper there claimed to have voice recordings that reveal more grisly details of Khashoggi’s alleged torture and murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he entered on 2 October but never came out.
So far, business chiefs cutting ties with the Saudi regime or boycotting the conference over the Khashoggi affair include Sir Richard Branson; Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi; Google Cloud chief executive, Diane Greene; Bob Bakish, head of mass media conglomerate Viacom; billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the LA Times; AOL co-founder and venture capitalist Steve Case; Joanna Popper, global head of entertainment virtual reality at IT giant, HP; and The Economist editor-in-chief, Zanny Minton Beddoes.
Despite the collapse of its headline speaker list, there are no signs yet the FII conference will be cancelled.
Yesterday organisers tweeted a dazzling video claiming the conference is "the global platform of future trends and growth opportunities, where innovative ideas partner with powerful, responsible investments, and together create a comprehensive action plan that drives global prosperity and shapes the future of economy for the betterment of all mankind."
Image: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters in Riyadh on 17 October before flying to Ankara, Turkey (Posted on Twitter by State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert)