Fund manager BlackRock opens office in Saudi Arabia

FILE PHOTO: Blackrock's Richard Prager rings the opening bell above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

RIYADH (Reuters) - BlackRock Inc BLK.N, the world's largest fund manager, has opened an office in Saudi Arabia, pushing ahead with plans to capitalize on the government's ambitious reform agenda despite global criticism of its human rights record.

A company spokeswoman said the Riyadh office had opened recently and is headed by Yazeed Almubarak, who previously worked at Morgan Stanley MS.N and Saudi bank Jadwa Investment, according to his LinkedIn page.

Chief Executive Larry Fink last year said that BlackRock would not cut ties with the kingdom, which came under pressure over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Fink pulled out of a major investment conference in Riyadh at the time.

BlackRock, with oversight of more than $6.4 trillion in assets, is widely followed by investors and economists for its influence at many of the world’s public companies.

Plans to open an office in Saudi Arabia were announced in 2017 as Riyadh began courting investors to support its push to diversify the economy away from oil.

Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Saudi officials deny accusations that Prince Mohammed had a role in the killing, but Western governments continue to press for greater accountability.

Reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai; Editing by David Goodman