IMF’s Christine Lagarde latest to cancel on Saudi conference amid Khashoggi furor

November 20, 2018 GMT

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde is the latest high-profile figure in the financial world to scrub a planned appearance at a major investment conference in Saudi Arabia, in the wake of the growing furor over the fate of critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In a terse announcement from the global finance body Wednesday morning, the IMF press office said Ms. Lagarde’s trip to the Middle East “is being deferred.”

That’s a reversal from just four days ago, when Ms. Lagarde said she was “horrified” by news reports that Mr. Khashoggi may have been kidnapped or killed on a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, but that she still planned to attend the Oct. 25-28 Future Investment Initiative conference being organized by the oil-rich kingdom.

Prior to the raft of cancellations, some were calling the gathering “Davos in the Desert,” a nod to the annual retreat for the rich and famous at the Swiss mountain resort town.

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With the Saudi government facing rising global pressure to explain what it knows about the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, a Washington-based opinion writer who was frequently critical of the royal family, a number of leading U.S. corporate figures have canceled their own plans to attend the conference, whose fate now is very much in doubt.

The U.S. Treasury Department has said that Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin will decide by the end of the week whether to participate in the event, which he was previously scheduled to attend as part of a six-country tour of the region.