A year after Jamal Khashoggi's murder in Saudi Arabia, the US seems to be returning to business as usual there

MBSSaudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (C) looks on next to Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (R) during the Future Investment Initiative FII conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 24, 2018.GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images

  • The world's business elite are expected to attend Saudi Arabia's annual investment conference, "Davos in the Desert," a year after the brutal killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi.
  • In the wake of Khashoggi's murder, many major financial and tech companies opted to skip the annual conference.
  • The kingdom's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, continues to deny responsibility for Khashoggi's death.
  • But this year, American companies including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and BlackRock are slated to attend, according to The Washington Post.
  • Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, as well as venture capitalist Jim Breyer and the chief product officer for augmented reality company Magic Leap are also on the list.
  • In total, more than 150 executives across the world have confirmed they will attend.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A year after dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by Saudi agents after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the world's business elite are returning to the kingdom for its annual investment conference.

In the wake of Khashoggi's death - which stirred global outrage but failed to bring his murderers to justice - major financial companies opted to skip the country's annual conference. But this year, it seems, it's back to business as usual.

Many believe Saudi Arabian operatives were involved with Khashoggi's death, alleging a cover-up involving the highest levels of the Saudi government, and indifference within the White House.

Read more: The story of Jamal Khashoggi's murder and how the world looked the other way

According to an attendees list of this year's conference, "Davos in the Desert," obtained by The Washington Post, senior executives from firms such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and BlackRock are slated to attend. Additionally, the Post reported, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, is expected to be there.

While many tech companies are likely to stay away, venture capitalist Jim Breyer, who led a deal involving Facebook, and the chief product officer for augmented reality company Magic Leap are mentioned on the attendees list, according to the Post.

Business Insider reached out to Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, BlackRock, Breyer Capital, and Magic Leap for comment. By the time of publication, Business Insider had heard back from Leslie Shribman, vice president of media relations at Goldman Sachs, who said the firm declined to comment on whether any executives plan to attend.

In total, more than 150 executives across the world - including 40 executives from US companies - have confirmed that they will attend "Davos in the Desert." Those executives are coming from countries including China, India, the United Arab Emirates, and various European states, and they will represent major banks, tech companies, business conglomerates and defense contractors.

As noted by Bloomberg, the conference signifies the kingdom's efforts to change its image following Khashoggi's gruesome murder. But, for the kingdom's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, whose image continues to diminish on the global stage, it isn't that easy.

"Khashoggi is always going to be a stain on Mohammed bin Salman," Hala Aldosari, a Saudi scholar and fellow at the M.I.T. Center for International Studies, told the New York Times. "It is not going to go away."

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File PhotoFILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in IstanbulReuters

In a "Frontline" documentary that aired this week about Saudi Arabia, MBS denied responsibility for the writer's slaying. "I get all the responsibility," he told journalist Martin Smith. "Because it happened under my watch."

Later, in an interview with "60 Minutes", he called the killing a "heinous incident" and said "absolutely not" when questioned on whether he ordered the killing. A United Nations report released in June, however, concluded there was "credible evidence" that the crown prince was behind the murder.

Despite that, those in the business world seem to be forgiving. BlackRock chief executive Larry Fink said on Linkedin that he was drawn back to the kingdom to encourage change and dialogue. He acknowledged Khashoggi's murder as "horrifying," but added that "I believe greater economic integration and diversification will help Saudi Arabia build a more modern and sustainable economy and society for all of its citizens. I also believe that corporate engagement and public dialogue can help with that evolution."

Major financial companies are also gearing up for the initial public offering of the Saudi oil giant Aramco this year, with the IPO expected to bring in billions of dollars for the crown prince's social and economic reform program, according to The Wall Street Journal. Nine banks, including JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, HSBC Holdings, PLC, Credit Suisse Group AG, and two domestic investment banks, were chosen to underwrite the listing, the Journal reported.

JPMorgan Chase's CEO, Jamie Dimon, told Bloomberg that his decision to boycott last year's conference "achieved nothing." After pitching Aramco's bonds to US investors, his bank is expected to have a lead role in the public offering, according to Bloomberg.

Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Post that, in reference to the business community's attitude toward Saudi Arabia, she thinks "most people have moved on."

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