HSBC sees little impact on Saudi Arabia investment after Khashoggi murder: CEO

LONDON (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is unlikely to see significant impact on its foreign trade and investment flows following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the chief executive of Europe’s biggest bank HSBC said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a HSBC bank branch in the City of London, Britain November 12, 2014. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth/File Photo

“It has been a difficult few weeks for the kingdom, this has not been good for Saudi Arabia,” HSBC CEO John Flint told Reuters in an interview.

“I understand the emotion around the story, but it is very difficult to think about disengaging from Saudi Arabia given its importance to global energy markets,” he said.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

His death sparked global outrage and pitched the world’s top oil exporter into crisis, putting the West’s relationship with Riyadh into sharp focus given scepticism about Saudi Arabia’s shifting explanations of the killing.

But while many global companies made a show of protest by withdrawing their top executives from a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh last week, industry and banking chiefs seem likely to continue courting the kingdom and its oil wealth as before.

While HSBC’s Flint pulled out of the conference, the lender’s investment banking chief Samir Assaf spoke onstage at the event.

HSBC has played an increasingly active role in Saudi Arabia in recent years. Flint said the bank will remain supportive of its local affiliate in the kingdom, Saudi British Bank (SABB) 1060.SE, Flint said.

The European lender has booked over $3 billion in profit from its investment in SABB and around $170 million in investment banking fees from the country since 2008, according to Refinitiv data.

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, plans to more than double its investments in Saudi Arabia after it is included in the fund’s reference index soon, Chief Executive Yngve Slyngstad said on Friday.

Reporting By Lawrence White, editing by Silvia Aloisi