Liam Fox pulls out of Saudi investment conference

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International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is pulling out of an international investment conference in Saudi Arabia amid concerns over the disappearance of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A Government spokesman said Dr Fox had decided the “time is not right” for him to attend the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh later this month.

“The UK remains very concerned about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance,” the spokesman said.

Jamal Khashoggi
Dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago (Johnny Green/PA)

The UK Government spokesman said: “We encourage Turkish-Saudi collaboration and look forward to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia conducting a thorough, credible, transparent and prompt investigation, as announced.

“Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”

Dr Fox’s withdrawal came as French finance minister Bruno Le Maire and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra announced they were pulling out of the event dubbed “Davos in the desert”.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later joined them in withdrawing, following a meeting with President Donald Trump.

Mr Le Maire said the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi was a “serious” matter and the facts about it need to be explained by Saudi authorities.

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said that a Dutch trade mission to Saudi Arabia planned for December was also now unlikely to go ahead.

A number of senior top business executives have already cancelled their plans to attend the conference, as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

Allan Hogarth of Amnesty International UK said the British Government should now re-appraise its “overly-cosy” relationship with the Saudis in the light of their “appalling” human rights record.

He said: “Liam Fox’s cancellation appears to be a recognition of the fact that cheer-leading for business in Saudi Arabia when the country is accused of murdering a journalist is simply beyond the pale.”

The latest moves come amid growing international pressure on the Saudi government and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to explain what happened to Mr Khashoggi, who has has not been seen since entering the consulate on October 2.

Saudi officials have dismissed allegations that he was tortured, murdered and then dismembered by a hit squad flown in from Riyadh as “baseless” but have provided no evidence of him leaving the mission alive.

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