By Natasha Bach
October 12, 2018

The Future Investment Initiative, otherwise known as ‘Davos in the Desert,’ is scheduled to take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a couple of weeks’ time.

But the list of attendees is beginning to thin.

After the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi government critic and Washington Post columnist, a number of CEOs and executives are backing out of attending the event.

Noting that he is “very troubled” by the reports about Khashoggi, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that he no longer plans to attend the FII conference “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges.”

As of Friday, others who have confirmed that they won’t attend include Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, venture capitalist Steve Case, LA Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, HP executive Joanna Popper, and Arianna Huffington. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon declined to say whether he will still attend. BlackRock is ‘monitoring’ the situation and has yet to decide whether CEO Larry Fink will attend. For now, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser still plans to attend, but the company said it is “following the situation closely.”

A number of media partners have also pulled out, including The New York Times, The Economist, and CNN. The Financial Times said it wouldn’t partner with the event while Khashoggi’s disappearance remains unexplained, while Bloomberg, CNBC, and Fox Business Network are ‘monitoring’ the situation.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin still intends to attend the conference, representing the Trump administration. President Trump himself expressed skepticism at reports that the Saudi government played a hand in Khashoggi’s disappearance, saying at a press briefing Thursday, “What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened. I mean, maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, but somehow I tend to doubt it.” He also expressed a reluctance to stopping U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite pressure from Congress.

Beyond the FII conference, Richard Branson is also concerned about the possible involvement of the Saudi government in Khashoggi’s disappearance. He told The Guardian on Thursday that he has suspended discussions with the government about investing in Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz stated Thursday that he would no longer serve on the board of NEOM, a Saudi construction project, “until more is known about what happened.” And Washington firm Harbour Group cut ties with Saudi Arabia on Thursday. The company had been advising the Kingdom since April of last year.

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