Saudi crown prince jokes about Lebanese PM Hariri at investment conference

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RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday joked about Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s detention in the kingdom last year, saying he was free to leave after attending an international investment conference in Riyadh.

“Prime Minister Saad is staying in the kingdom for two days so I hope you don’t spread rumors that he was kidnapped,” he said during a panel discussion at the event.

Hariri, sitting beside the crown prince, commonly known as MbS, took part in the humour as the audience laughed. “With all my freedom,” he said.

Hariri, who has Saudi citizenship, was summoned to Riyadh a year ago, briefly detained and compelled to resign as prime minister in a speech read out on television from Saudi until France intervened to free him.

The joke took place as the Crown Prince comes under mounting global pressure to come up with answers over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2.

During the panel discussion, he said “justice will prevail” and the culprits would be punished in his most high profile comments since U.S. resident Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was killed.

Hours earlier U.S. President Donald Trump, in his toughest comments yet, told the Wall Street Journal that the crown prince bore ultimate responsibility for the operation that led to Khashoggi’s killing.

The kingdom has survived other crises, including the fallout of the short-lived kidnapping of Hariri.

Hariri was verbally humiliated and beaten, according to eight Saudi, Arab and Western diplomatic sources.

Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg