A high-profile Saudi investment conference that was due to begin this week experienced another setback Monday after its website appeared to be defaced by hackers critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The home page for the conference — which markets itself as “Davos in the Desert” — was overtaken Monday and replaced with a message calling for Saudi officials to be held “responsible for its barbaric and inhuman action, such as killing its own citizen Jamal khashoggi and thousands of innocent people in Yemen.”
Calling the Saudi government a source of terrorism financing, the message was accompanied by a composite image of Mohammed holding a sword above the head of Khashoggi. And it linked to a number of YouTube videos from an account that had been created a day ago.
Within minutes, the entire website had gone offline.
Saudi officials admitted on Saturday that Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, had been killed in the country’s consulate in Istanbul, after initially denying it for weeks. On Monday, surveillance video obtained by CNN appeared to show a Saudi operative impersonating Khashoggi by walking out of the consulate in his clothes.
The outcry over Khashoggi’s killing has had punishing consequences for the conference, known formally as the Future Investment Initiative. The conference is part of a broader, years-long effort by the Saudi government to diversify its economy and shift away from its dependence on oil exports.
The conference organizers didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment
Amid the growing international crisis, the chief executives of JP Morgan Chase, BlackRock and Siemens have all withdrawn from the summit, as have the leaders of HSBC and Uber.
Foreign investors sold off more than $1 billion of investments in Saudi stocks last week, according to Bloomberg News — a record blow as government officials continue to seek status from world indexes as an emerging market. Analysts say the Saudi government hopes that the label will lead to a massive influx of new money from global investors.