Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel is the scene of a global investment conference nicknamed the Desert Davos. Photo: AFP

The third annual Saudi investment conference in Riyadh has drawn an all-star cast one year after the gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi sparked a boycott of 2018’s event.

Here is a pick of quotes from the glitzy meeting:

Mnuchin all smiles

United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin withdrew from last year’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) at the height of the uproar over the murder of Saudi critic Khashoggi, but was all smiles on stage this year as he talked up US prospects:

“The US economy continues to be quite strong, we see very strong employment, very low inflation,” he said.

But he added that there was no doubt global growth is slowing and that has exerted a “modest drag on the US economy.”

Regarding Europe, he said he was “somewhat concerned,” pointing to more work needed on regulatory measures to keep growth ticking over.

Still burning

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro used the investment summit to take a swipe at his critics over his handling of the Amazon fire crisis.

“At times, certain countries use the environmental agenda or even the human rights agenda to try to interfere in the domestic agenda of other countries. Sometimes they manipulate the environmental agenda, which is precisely what happened in our case,” he said.

“I can assure you .. that we will come by the end of this year with the lowest average for fire … in the history of Brazil. It was really a fake piece of news that circulated against Brazil.”

He also angrily denied links to last year’s assassination of a prominent Brazilian politician, after reports that a suspect in the murder investigation visited his residence before the killing.

“I have no reason to kill anyone in Rio de Janeiro,” the president said, appearing agitated, at times shouting and accusing the media of “rotten and unscrupulous journalism.”

Bolsonaro welcomed an informal invitation from Saudi Arabia for his country to join the OPEC oil cartel.

His government also announced that the kingdom’s public investment fund will funnel $10 billion (nine billion euros) into Brazil.

Friends reunited

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has a warm relationship with Saudi Arabia’s equally young and ambitious Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, his support never wavering throughout the Khashoggi scandal.

The pair are believed to speak on the phone regularly and Kushner’s appearance at his friend’s marquee event in Riyadh was no surprise.

Kushner recalled that Trump’s first post-election foreign visit had been to Riyadh and praised the administration’s work on turning around problems in the Middle East inherited “off a previous administration.”

“What we’re finding is that the enthusiasm for the president right now at home is stronger than it’s ever been,” he said.

Hail the crown prince

Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, won lavish praise for his reform ambitions from top delegates, including representatives of the Trump administration.

The praise signalled that Prince Mohammed has had success in his image revamp for the ultra-conservative kingdom, which has included introducing social and economic reforms.

Mnuchin said he was pleased at the prospect of returning to Riyadh “plenty of times” next year when the kingdom hosts the G20 summit, and lauded the royal ruler’s Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world’s largest economy for the post-oil era.

“I think His Highness the Crown Prince’s execution of this transformation will be the critical vision on getting that done,” Mnuchin said.

The CIA has reportedly concluded that the crown prince, who controls all major levers of power in the Saudi government, likely ordered the killing of Khashoggi – a charge he has repeatedly denied.

Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year ahead of the FII, the fallout triggering mass cancellations by Western executives.


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