BlackRock won't cut ties with Saudis if it turns out the kingdom ordered Khashoggi's slaying: CEO Larry Fink

  • BlackRock CEO Larry Fink says the world's largest money manager won't "run away" from doing business with Saudi Arabia.
  • Nobody likes to make black-and-white decisions, Fink adds, arguing he does not think he needs to make one yet in this case.
  • On Monday, Fink decided to not attend next week's Saudi investment conference, joining a growing list of CEOs who pulled out.

The chairman and CEO of the world's largest money manager said Tuesday his firm won't "run away" from doing business with Saudi Arabia even if it turns out that the kingdom ordered the slaying of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"No," BlackRock chief Larry Fink responded when asked by CNBC if the firm would severe financial ties with the Saudis.

"We do business in 80 different countries. There are many countries where we may disagree," said Fink, whose firm manages $6.4 trillion in assets.

Nobody likes to make black-or-white decisions, he added, arguing he does not think he needs to make one yet in this case.

"I've been going to Saudi for years and years and years, as much as three or four times a year," he said. "As friend of the country's, I wanted to do this in a way ... that preserved the relationship that we have, that we worked so long for."

"And yet, we needed to be mindful of this investigation," he stressed. "It could impact relationships worldwide. We have to sympathetic to this."

"This was a big issue with BlackRock's employees. The was a big issue with many of our clients," said Fink, appearing on "Squawk Box" a day after he decided to not attend next week's Saudi Arabia investment conference as global outrage mounted over the disappearance of Khashoggi. He said the Saudis understood why he canceled.

As CNBC reported on Monday, Fink confirmed he tried unsuccessfully to get the conference postponed until there was more information available, "and we could do this in a non-emotional way."

Fink said he weighed his relationship with the kingdom against that of his various constituencies, and he was left with "only one choice" — to withdraw from the conference. Khashoggi's disappearance has become such a "lightning rod" that it prevented finding common ground, he said. "I have been a lifelong globalist. I'm still proud to be a globalist in this day and age."

The BlackRock chief executive's words and actions around the Khashoggi case are significant because he's a leader in the movement of corporate responsibility. In January, he wrote a letter to the world's largest public companies, calling for them to help improve society or risk losing support from BlackRock. In March, after the deadly February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, BlackRock said in a client note said it's time to take action on guns.

In addition to Fink, a number of American CEOs also pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative event, also known as "Davos in the Desert," being co-hosted by the Saudi sovereign Public Investment Fund and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

NBC News reports the Saudi government is considering a plan to admit that Khashoggi, columnist for The Washington Post and critic of the Saudi royal family, was killed inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Khashoggi, who left Saudi Arabia last year and relocated in Virginia, has not been seen since entering the consulate on Oct. 2.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman.

President Donald Trump dispatched Pompeo to the oil-rich kingdom after speaking with Salman on the phone. The president told reporters on Monday, "The king firmly denied any knowledge of it."

Without offering evidence, Trump also said Khashoggi could have died at the hands of "rogue killers," offering the U.S.-allied kingdom a possible path out of a global diplomatic firestorm.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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