Khashoggi death 'a terrible tragedy' but should 'separate' from Saudi Arabia's potential, Russian wealth fund chief says

  • "There is an investigation and the responsible people will, I'm sure, be punished," Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), told CNBC's Hadley Gamble in Riyadh Tuesday.
  • Dmitriev said RDIF supported the crown prince's economic reform program, Vision 2030, and said he thought it was "important to send a supportive message" to the reforms and to the kingdom.

The killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is "a terrible tragedy," the chief executive of Russia's $10 billion sovereign wealth fund told CNBC, but added that it should be separated from the Saudi leadership and the kingdom's economic potential.

"There is an investigation and the responsible people will, I'm sure, be punished," Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russia Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), told CNBC's Hadley Gamble in Riyadh Tuesday.

"But for us, it's important to recognize that Saudi Arabia has made a great transformation over the last three, four years under the leadership of the King (Salman) and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman," he said.

Dmitriev said RDIF supported the crown prince's economic reform program, Vision 2030, and said he thought it was "important to send a supportive message" to the reforms and to the kingdom.

"Yes, it was a terrible tragedy but we need to separate one from another," he said, speaking to CNBC from the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in the capital of Saudi Arabia. The investment forum kicked off on Tuesday despite a large number of high profile delegates pulling out from the event following the death of Jamal Khashoggi on October 2.

The Saudi journalist was a well-known critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and died within the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman (2nd L) takes his seat to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and his delegation on April 19, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Jonathan Ernst - Pool | Getty Images
Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman (2nd L) takes his seat to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and his delegation on April 19, 2017 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The circumstances surrounding his death are not yet known but Turkish investigations have pointed to a 15-man strong "hit squad" having traveled from Saudi Arabia to carry out the killing.

Saudi Arabia first denied any knowledge of Khashoggi's death but on Friday claimed that he had died in a fight in the consulate. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that there was strong evidence to show the killing was pre-meditated, making it murder.

Dmitriev said it is a "great mistake" to speculate about the circumstances around Khashoggi's death.

Despite a lower turnout than there might have been at the FII, Dmitriev said that "a lot of executives from the U.S. and Europe," as well as a big Chinese and Russian delegation, were in Riyadh and interested in partnering with Saudi Arabia.

"We think it's impossible to ignore the economy and many people want to partner on many subjects so we're sure that business will continue," he added.

He said he was concerned about the unconfirmed speculation in the media, repeated without verification. "Until the investigation is finished, there are a lot of unsubstantiated rumors and we want to make sure investigators finish their work transparently and clearly."