The chief executive of the Blackstone Group and one of Yale’s major donors Stephen Schwarzman ’69 canceled plans to attend an investment forum in Saudi Arabia next week, according to a New York Times report on Monday.
The forum, titled Future Investment Initiative, and commonly known as ‘Davos in the Desert’ started last year under the patronage of King Salman of Saudi Arabia. This year’s forum is scheduled for Oct. 23–25 and will be held in in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. Schwarzman’s withdrawal from the forum follows that of two other Wall Street business moguls, including the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, and the CEO of BlackRock, Larry Fink. Behind the string of cancellations is the disappearance and potential murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist suspected to be murdered by Saudi operatives. Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
According to Turkish authorities, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi operatives. The Saudi government denies all such allegations, claiming that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after his arrival.
Students and faculty members interviewed by the News praised Schwarzman’s decision to withdraw from the forum.
“Stephen Schwarzman is sending the right message by pulling out of the conference in Saudi Arabia.” Economics professor Samuel Kortum said in an email to the News. “I was pleased to learn of that decision. When the Saudi government very likely killed a journalist, it’s good to see people call them out on it. Refusing to take part in the Saudi conference is one way to apply pressure.”
According to the Times’ report, Schwarzman consulted with Dimon and Fink over the weekend about withdrawing from the forum. The three men also urged U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin ’85 to either push for a conference delay or announce that his attendance will be conditional on the Saudi government disclosing more information about Khashoggi’s disappearance.
University spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment for the story.
Given the Saudi government’s wealth from the country’s vast oil reserves and its plans to invest in companies around the world, Schwarzman’s decision to withdraw from the conference may have financial consequences for his company, as per the Times report. In May 2017, Blackstone announced the creation of a $40 billion fund to invest in infrastructure projects in the United States, half of which was funded by the government of Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with the News, Yasmin Alamdeen ’21 said she is supportive of Schwarzman’s decision to not attend the conference. Alamdeen said that in his withdrawal, he refused to “implicitly [support] such unjust actions on the part of the Saudi Arabian government.”
But History professor Abbas Amanat, who studies the modern Middle East, said that Schwarzman’s withdrawal from the forum does not redeem him.
“[Doesn’t] Mr. Schwarzman have enough sins on his conscience for being an avid Trump-er?,” Amanat said in an email to the News. “Withdrawing from a dirty deals with the criminal Saudi regime may be his only redeeming point.”
Prominent figures around the world have condemned the Saudi government since Khashoggi’s disappearance this month. On Saturday, President Donald Trump threatened “severe punishment” if the Saudi royal court was found to have a role in the alleged murder. The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany also called for a “credible investigation” into the matter.
Serena Cho | firstname.lastname@example.org .