Saudi Arabia planned to announce a raft of deals in energy and base metals at its signature investment forum even as it struggled to overcome international outrage over the killing of a government critic.
The deals include agreements with French oil giant Total SA and several Chinese and South Korean companies, according to people familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified because the matter hasn’t been officially disclosed. Trafigura Group and an affiliate of Riyadh-based Modern Industrial Investment Holding Group announced a joint venture to develop a smelter and refining complex, according to an emailed statement.
Some of the deals totalling about $50 billion have already been announced, while others are for new ventures or mark progressive steps on existing agreements. Total didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is seeking to show that it’s business as usual after dozens of top bankers, chief executives, and foreign dignitaries cancelled plans to attend the summit. The event is the brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who runs day-to-day business in the kingdom, and was envisaged as a stage to showcase new ventures and unveil billion-dollar contracts in front of the world’s business elite.
The 33-year crown prince has come under pressure since the Saudi government acknowledged after days of denials that a group of his own intelligence officers had killed a Washington Post contributor, Jamal Khashoggi, at the country’s consulate in Istanbul. While global business titans commended the prince last year for his ambitious plans to transform the nation’s oil-dependent economy, executives in industries from banking to new technologies are skipping the conference this time.
BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink and JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon are among finance executives who pulled out. Several big banks, however, have sent regional executives to the conference, walking a fine line between the risks of stoking the outcry over Khashoggi’s killing and losing future businesses in Saudi Arabia. Ken Moelis of investment bank Moelis & Co. was due to speak at the event, according to the event’s app.
Top oil industry officials are still participating, including Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne and the heads of Schlumberger Ltd. and Baker Hughes, two of the world’s top oil services groups.
The conference opened in a glittering convention centre adjacent to the same Ritz Carlton hotel where dozens of Saudi billionaires were detained last year in a purported crackdown against corruption that shocked international and local investors. Although many foreign executives stayed way, the main conference room was fully packed, illuminated by a dozen chandeliers each bigger than a car.
In his welcoming remarks, Yasir Al Rumayyan, managing director head of the Saudi sovereign wealth fund and host of the conference, made no reference to Khashoggi. Minutes later, Lubna Olayan, billionaire head of one of the largest Saudi conglomerates, used the start of a panel discussion on investment to mourn the columnist’s death, saying his killing was “alien” to Saudi values.
“We are very grateful that the terrible acts reported in recent weeks are alien to our culture and our DNA,” Olayan, CEO of Olayan Financing Co., said in her address. “I am confident that with the support of the government, concerned authorities and leadership, the truth will emerge.”
The Saudi government plans a public signing ceremony for some of the agreements—mostly memorandums of understanding rather than final investment decisions—during the conference, in what appears to be an effort to shore up confidence among international business leaders.
Other speakers included Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and Mubadala Investment Co. CEO Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
State owned oil company Saudi Aramco will sign initial agreements with Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and oil-services provider Halliburton Co., the people said. Deals to advance agreements that have already been announced include one related to a petrochemical plant and another to a project with Chinese conglomerate Norinco to jointly build a 300,000-barrel-a-day refinery in China.
The government is also expected to announce an accord with Sumitomo Corp. for investment in the Petro Rabigh oil refinery and chemical plant in Saudi Arabia.