In a renewed effort to strengthen business ties with Riyadh, Goldman Sachs Group CEO David Solomon has arrived in Saudi Arabia on his first trip to the kingdom as chief executive officer.
He is the first head of a major US bank known to have traveled to the country since an international scandal erupted last year over the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. After initial denials, Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue” agents of the Saudi government while visiting the country’s consulate in Istanbul last October.
An unnamed senior Goldman Sachs banker told Bloomberg that the company’s senior executives have indicated Riyadh offers a more promising environment for growing the investment bank’s business than other parts of the Middle East. He has also confirmed that Solomon was in the region to see longstanding clients of the firm.
Goldman Sachs has significant business deals in Saudi Arabia. Despite that fact, it was among the international firms to withdraw from the kingdom’s flagship investment event in October following reports on Khashoggi’s murder.
Solomon then said in an interview with CNBC that the “incident is unacceptable and clearly they have to answer questions.” He added that the Saudi leaders’ response to the international uproar “will have an impact on how we all interact.” His remarks on the case were among the strongest to emerge from a senior Wall Street executive.
However, the bank took a role of an adviser to the Public Investment Fund in Saudi Aramco’s agreement last week to buy a majority stake in local chemical giant Sabic from the Saudi sovereign fund.
The Wall Street bank is also advising Riyad Bank on its merger with Saudi Arabia’s largest lender National Commercial Bank. Solomon’s firm advised HSBC Holdings’ Saudi Arabian unit on its $5 billion acquisition of a local rival, part-owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group.
In neighboring Abu Dhabi, the firm has been blacklisted by the emirate’s main wealth fund amid a legal dispute tied to the bank’s role in Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal. A criminal probe on the matter has been also opened against Goldman in the key Asian hub of Singapore.