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Top finance officials gather at Saudi summit

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Top finance moguls and political leaders are attending a Davos-style Saudi investment summit that began yesterday, in contrast to last year when outrage over journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder sparked a boycott.

Organisers say 300 speakers from 30 countries, including American officials and heads of global banks and major sovereign wealth funds, will attend the annual summit that seeks to project the kingdom as a dynamic investment destination.

A strong turnout at the three-day Future Investment Initiative (FII), nicknamed "Davos in the desert", would further rehabilitate de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's global image that was tainted by the killing last October.

The murder triggered one of the worst crises for the world's top crude exporter worst crises and prompted a wave of business and political leaders to pull out of the glitzy annual conference at the last minute.

But the event is set for a reboot this year as global outrage over the killing fades.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, leaders of key emerging markets, are set to speak at the summit along with King Abdullah II of Jordan and four African leaders.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin leads a high-powered American delegation that includes Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Mr Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Donald Trump.

The chief executives of asset management firms Blackstone and SoftBank, as well as chairs of the sovereign wealth funds of Kuwait, UAE, Singapore and Russia are also expected to attend.

Top executives from blue chips Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, both working on the much-anticipated flotation of state oil behemoth Saudi Aramco, are on a long list of global bank representatives at the forum.

"This year's FII is very different from last year's," said Mr Ryan Bohl, from the US geopolitical think tank Stratfor. - AFP