Saudi Davos investment summit in desert

Riyadh, Oct 29 (AFP/APP): Top finance moguls and political leaders are set to attend a Davos-style Saudi investment summit starting Tuesday, in contrast to last year when outrage over critic Jamal Khashoggi’s murder sparked a mass boycott.

Organisers say 300 speakers from 30 countries, including American officials and heads of global banks and major sovereign wealth funds, would attend the annual summit that seeks to project the insular kingdom as a dynamic investment destination.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, leaders of key emerging markets, are set to speak at the summit along with King Abdullah II of Jordan and four African leaders.

The CEOs of asset management firms Blackstone and SoftBank, as well as chairs of the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait, UAE, Singapore and Russia are also expected to attend.

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Top executives from blue chips Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, both working on the much-anticipated flotation of state oil behemoth Saudi Aramco, are on a long list of global bank representatives at the forum.

“This year’s FII is very different from last year,” said Ryan Bohl, from the US geopolitical think tank Stratfor, told AFP.

“The sanctions threat over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which led to boycotts last year, is currently over. Many delegates this year have no qualms about getting close to Saudi.”

Global banks and consultants are vying for business around the much-delayed initial public offering of state oil giant Aramco, the world’s most profitable company.

The kingdom plans to list as much as five percent of Aramco, which analysts say could be worth between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion.

“I expect that many international observers as well as most attendees will pay more attention to the delayed Aramco IPO than to the Khashoggi legacy,” said Steffen Hertog, an associate professor at the London School of Economics.

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