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More US firms boycotting Saudi investor confab


JP Morgan Chase & Co chief executive Jamie Dimon and Ford chairman Bill Ford are the latest US firms that cancelled plans to attend a Saudi Arabian investor conference later this month following the disappearance of a dissident journalist at the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Uber Technologies chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and billionaire Steve Case, one of the founders of AOL, have also announced that they were no longer going to the three-day event, dubbed “Davos in the Desert.”

British billionaire Richard Branson on Friday suspended business links with Saudi Arabia.

In addition, major news organizations such as CNN, the Financial Times, the New York Times, CNBC and Bloomberg have pulled out of the conference. The Fox Business Network, the lone Western news outlet still heading to the conference, told Reuters on Sunday it was reviewing that decision.

The latest cancellations could add pressure on other US firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Mastercard Inc and Bank of America Corp to reconsider their plans to attend the event.

Neither JP Morgan nor Ford would elaborate on the reasons for the decision not to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference, and did not comment on whether concerns about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi were a factor.

Khashoggi, a prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and a US resident, disappeared on October 2 after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities believe he was tortured and killed inside the building by a team of Saudi operatives who removed his dismembered body.

US President Donald Trump, who has forged close ties with Saudi Arabia, has come under pressure at home and abroad to punish Riyadh if investigations show the regime had Khashoggi killed.

The president has not said what measures his administration would take if Saudi Arabia is found to be responsible, but he made clear any punishment would not involve suspending Washington-Riyadh arms deals.

According to the kingdom’s official SPA news agency, Riyadh said it would retaliate in case any possible economic sanctions were adopted by other states over the case of Khashoggi in what has been seen as an allusion to calls on the US administration to revoke its hefty arms deals with Saudi Arabia.

Other countries have also threatened sharp reactions to possible killing of Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia with the latest instance being remarks by Britain’s opposition Labour Party, which announced that it would stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia if it was in government.

The Tadawul exchange in Riyadh dropped by 7 percent at one point during the week’s first day of trading, with 182 of its 186 listed stocks showing losses by the early afternoon. The market clawed back some of the losses, trading down over 4 percent later on.

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