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Amid international condemnation and cancellations, IMF, US confirm Saudi trip

Security personnel stand at the entrance of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. Germany says it is "very concerned" about the disappearance of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, and is calling on Saudi Arabia to "participat
AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris
Uber and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are among those who have withdrawn from the event in Saudi Arabia

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Saturday she was "horrified" by reports about the fate of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi but still plans to attend an economic meeting in Riyadh this month.

As questions swirl over the fate of Khashoggi -- a Saudi critic who has not been seen since he walked into the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2 -- some big business names and media outlets have pulled out of the Kingdom's second Future Investment Initiative.

But Lagarde said her plans were unchanged for now, despite international uproar over the case.

"Human rights, freedom of information are essential rights and horrifying things have been reported and I am horrified," she told reporters in Bali where the IMF is holding annual meetings.

"But I have to conduct the business of the IMF in all corners in the world and with many governments."

"When I visit a country, I always speak my mind... So at this point of time my intention is to not change my plans and to be very attentive to the information that is coming out in the next few days."

Saudi Press Agency via AP

Her comments came shortly after US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he also still planned to attend the October 23-25 meeting, dubbed "Davos in the Desert".

"The answer is for now I am" still going, Mnuchin said.

"If more information comes out over the next week, I will obviously take that into account."

"Obviously I want to express concern for Mr. Khashoggi and his family," he added.

"We look forward to getting results of this investigation."

Riyadh on Saturday dismissed accusations that authorities there had ordered Khashoggi be murdered by a hit squad inside its Istanbul consulate as "lies and baseless allegations".

But the row has intensified with the Washington Post reporting that Turkish officials have recordings made from inside the building that allegedly prove their claims Khashoggi was tortured and killed at the consulate.

Bloomberg, Financial Times, The Economist and The New York Times have withdrawn as media sponsors from the event amid questions about the missing man's fate.

The CEO of ride-hailing app Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, said that he will no longer be attending the event unless "a substantially different set of facts emerges".

Amnesty International demanded the Saudi authorities reveal what happened to Khashoggi as it said Riyadh was "responsible at a minimum for enforced disappearance".

AP Photo/Stefano Paltera

Branson suspends Saudi links 

British entrepreneur Richard Branson said he would suspend two directorships linked to tourism projects in Saudi Arabia over the issue.

In a statement late Thursday, Branson said also that his Virgin group would suspend discussions with Saudi Arabia over proposed investment in Virgin Galactic, which is set to carry out its first space flight within weeks.

"I had high hopes for the current government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and it is why I was delighted to accept two directorships in the tourism projects around the Red Sea," Branson said in the statement posted on the Virgin website. 

"I felt that I could give practical development advice and also help protect the precious environment around the coastline and islands."

But he added: "What has reportedly happened in Turkey around the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, if proved true, would clearly change the ability of any of us in the West to do business with the Saudi government. 

"We have asked for more information from the authorities in Saudi and to clarify their position in relation to Mr Khashoggi.

"While those investigations are ongoing and Mr Khashoggi's whereabouts are not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects. 

"Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit," Branson added.

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