Saudis trumpets $ 56 billion deals as the conference ends in partial boycott

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia announced that it had signed contracts worth US $ 56 billion at an investment conference this week and expected the US, despite a partial boycott of the event, to discuss the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi would remain an important business partner.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will give a speech on 24 October 2018 at the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of the Saudi Royal Court / Handout on REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE IS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY

More than two dozen high-ranking officials and executives from the United States and Europe, including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and senior executives of major banks, boycotted the investment conference over the killing of Khashoggi on October 2 at the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul.

It was feared that, at least temporarily, trade relations with the West could be affected, as the call for Riyadh and the risk of economic sanctions for the Khashoggi affair make it difficult to open new deals.

Nevertheless, the three-day Future Investment Initiative Conference drew hundreds of business and government officials from around the world to a palatial venue in Riyadh to attract foreign capital to support Saudi economic reform.

"More than $ 56 billion worth of contracts have been signed," Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told state television on Thursday, adding that most of these contracts were backed by US companies.

He added, "The US will remain a key part of the Saudi economy because the interests that bind us are greater than what is weakened by the conference's failed boycott campaign."

Saudi Arabia initially denied any involvement in Khashoggi's death, but a Saudi official eventually attributed it to a failed attempt to return him to the kingdom. Turkey has rejected Saudi Arabia's efforts to blame guilty parties and has called on Riyadh to look for those responsible from top to bottom.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih will give a speech on October 15, 2018 during the India Energy Forum in New Delhi, India. REUTERS / Adnan Abidi / File Photo

Strong Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said defiantly at the conference that the excitement over Khashoggi's killing would not affect the kingdom's reforms.

In protest of the Khashoggi case, British billionaire Richard Branson suspended talks with Saudi Arabia's public investment fund, which hosted the conference, for a planned $ 1 billion investment in his group's space companies.

Saudi Arabian officers, however, campaigned as usual to persuade foreign companies to attend the Kingdom's main investment event, despite the international outcry over Khashoggi's death.

Many of the big Western banks, whose top executives boycotted the conference, sent substantial teams of low-level executives and continued to sit down with Saudi officials on the sidelines of the event, bankers said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be joining the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on 24 October 2018 with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Bandar Algaloud / Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court / Handout on REUTERS

Few senior executives from China and Japan announced that they were withdrawing from the event, placing pressure on Western companies to maintain their presence or risk losing business.

A high-ranking European banker said at the conference that the investment pattern in Saudi Arabia was damaged, but that investment behavior would return to normal in a few months. "The store has a short memory," he said.

Saudi Arabian oil giant Saudi Aramco said it had completed 15 international partners worth more than $ 34 billion.

These included a deal to build a petrochemical complex in the second phase of a refinery jointly held by Aramco and France Total, as well as an agreement with a Spanish consortium for the second phase of a high-speed rail project.

Reporting by Andrew Torchia; Cut by Mark Heinrich

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