Ryanair chairman withdraws from Saudi investment conference

David Bonderman pulls out of ‘Davos in the Desert’ over Jamal Khashoggi disappearance

Ryanair chairman David Bonderman has pulled out of a high-profile investment conference in Saudi Arabia next week.

He becomes the latest in a list of global business figures who have withdrawn from the event following the recent disappearance and presumed killing of a dissident journalist in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mr Bonderman, the co-founder of private equity giant TPG Capital, was scheduled to give an address at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) event, nicknamed by US media as “Davos in the Desert”.

FII, which is meant to be a glittering showcase of Saudi's economic future, will be hosted by crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who in recent days has been at the centre of a global storm of allegations surrounding the disappearance this month of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.


Hit team

Turkish media have reported that Mr Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime, who vanished after entering the consulate in Istanbul, was killed by a Saudi state-sanctioned hit team. Turkish authorities leaked the full identities of the alleged hit team, whom local media say murdered Mr Khashoggi and cut up his body.

Saudi Arabia has, so far, denied he died in its consulate, although it has been widely speculated that its story could yet change.

The allegations have rebounded badly on Saudi Arabia and its 33-year-old crown prince, who is now under severe political pressure across the globe. The most immediate ramification is that a slew of senior business figures have pulled out of FII in protest.

The event was a centrepiece of Prince Bin Salman’s attempts to portray himself as a moderniser and Saudi Arabia as an investment location.

Among other people pulling out of FII are tycoon Richard Branson, media investor Arianna Huffington, Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, and a host of bank chiefs led by JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon.

Mr Bonderman spoke at last year's FII event. He had been due to take part in a panel discussion, The world in 2030: Creating value for the next generation. Mr Branson was also due to take part in that panel. It is unclear if it is now going ahead.

Meanwhile, Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy is due to speak this week alongside the Saudi ambassador to Ireland at an event to promote Irish business links to Saudi Arabia. The event, a joint effort between Ibec and the Ireland Saudi Arabia Business Council, will take place in the Shelbourne Hotel on Thursday.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column