Mnuchin Quits Saudi Investor Event With Furor Mounting Over Khashoggi

(Bloomberg) -- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he will skip an investor conference in Saudi Arabia, as evidence mounts that the kingdom’s government may have played a role in the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Mnuchin sent a tweet on Thursday saying that after meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo he decided not to participate in the Future Investment Initiative, an event organized by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Mnuchin is visiting several countries in the region next week, starting with Israel on Sunday, and it’s not clear whether he will still go ahead with his stop in Saudi Arabia.

Mnuchin’s decision came after Pompeo returned from meetings in Saudi Arabia in recent days and said the U.S. wants to give the government there “a few more days” to present the results of an investigation into the disappearance of Khashoggi. The Washington Post contributor walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month and never emerged.

Mnuchin was increasingly isolated as business leaders and government officials backed out of the event. Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, deferred a trip to the kingdom, as did JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s Jamie Dimon and Credit Suisse Group AG Chief Executive Officer Tidjane Thiam. Ministers from Britain, France and Denmark also won’t go.

Evidence has grown that Khashoggi may have been murdered, with Turkish media reporting that audio recordings indicate he was tortured and his body dismembered.

Mnuchin’s decision is a relatively cost-free way for the U.S. to show it’s taking a tougher stance against Saudi Arabia after Trump and Pompeo stressed that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is too significant to walk away from. Pompeo was criticized on social media for images from his meetings with Saudi officials that showed him smiling broadly.

“I wouldn’t read too much into canceling the trip,” said Thomas Wright, director of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution.“It’s not a sign that they’re getting tough -- going to this event is more hassle than it’s worth and it’s a good way of acting tough when they’re not actually being tough.”

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