IMF chief 'horrified' by missing journalist rumours but still plans to attend Saudi summit

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde said her intention at this point is to go ahead with her plan to attend the Future Investment Initiative. PHOTO: AFP

BALI - International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde has no plans at the moment to pull out of an upcoming Saudi investment summit that has been rocked by the mass withdrawal of international heavyweights amid mounting speculation over the disappearance of a dissident journalist.

Mr Jamal Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, has not been seen since he entered a Saudi consulate in Turkey on Oct 2.

In the past week, accusations of murder have emerged, with Turkish officials coming out to say that the veteran journalist was killed and dismembered by a hit squad of Saudi government agents.

As outrage grows, a wave of withdrawals from the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII), which is set to take place in the Saudi capital of Riyadh from Oct 23 to 25, has begun.

Known as "Davos in the desert" after a gathering of elites that takes place each year in Switzerland, the conference is due to be hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and boast a star-studded line-up of speakers and partners including Deloitte, US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Uber Technologies chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi, as well as Ms Lagarde herself.

Asked if she would still be attending the conference, Ms Lagarde on Saturday (Oct 13) told reporters in Bali: "Human rights and freedom of information are essential rights. And horrifying things have been reported. And I am horrified.

"But I have to conduct the business of the IMF in all corners of the world and with many governments. And when I visit a country, I always speak my mind. You know me, I do."

Her intention at this point is to go ahead with her plan to attend the conference, and "to be very attentive to the information that is coming out in the next few days".

"But I speak my mind," she stressed once more.

The US's Mr Mnuchin, who is in Bali for the IMF-World Bank annual meetings as well, has also said he will go ahead for now.

"I am planning on going at this point," he told reporters. "If more information comes out and changes, we could look at that, but I am planning on going."

Meanwhile, the list of high-flying executives who have backed out of the event is growing, and includes Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and The Huffington Post co-founder Arianna Huffington.

On Friday, the World Bank said its president Jim Yong Kim would skip the Saudi conference.

Mr Khoshrowshahi of Uber - a company the Saudi sovereign wealth fund is a key shareholder in - has also dropped out.

"I am very troubled by the reports to date about Jamal Khashoggi," he said in a statement on Friday. "We are following the situation closely, and unless a substantially different set of facts emerges, I won't be attending the FII conference in Riyadh."

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