1. ITV Report

Liam Fox pulls out of Saudi investment conference amid concerns over disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner

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.

Turkish government sources have claimed that Mr Khashoggi – a critic of the government in Riyadh – was murdered during a visit to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.

Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that "it certainly looks" as if the Saudi writer is dead, repeating pledges that there would be "severe" consequences for the Gulf nation if this proved to be the case.

Dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was last seen at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago Credit: 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.”

US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has also confirmed he will not attend the event following Dr Fox's announcement and similar moves from France's finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

He said on Twitter that the decision was made after a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

He said: "I will not be participating in the Future Investment Initiative summit in Saudi Arabia."

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His announcement comes after Mr Pompeo told reporters at the White House that the administration would await the outcome of investigations by Saudi Arabia and Turkey before deciding how the US will respond.

Mike Pompeo said the US will give Saudi Arabia 'a few more days' to investigate. Credit: AP

Mr Pompeo, who visited the kingdom this week, said that Saudi Arabia will "conduct a complete, thorough investigation of all the facts" surrounding Mr Khashoggi and that it will be done in a "timely fashion".

He said he told Saudi Arabia that the US takes Mr Khashoggi's disappearance "very seriously".

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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.

Several top business executives have also cancelled their plans to attend the event dubbed 'Davos in the desert', as has the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde.

Dutch finance minister Wopke Hoekstra also cancelled, after discussing the issue with Mr Le Maire, the Dutch foreign minister said.

Stef Blok wrote that a Dutch trade mission planned for December to Saudi Arabia also likely will not go ahead.

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.

Turkish officials say Mr Khashoggi was killed and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.