David Cameron has defended meeting Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman during a business trip in January last year.
The former British prime minister said he and scandal-hit financier Lex Greensill met the leader during a trip to the kingdom while advising on the country’s upcoming chairmanship of the G20.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the prince’s authoritarian consolidation of power, was brutally murdered in early October 2018.
Later that month, former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said “all the evidence” suggested the journalist had been murdered on the orders of someone close to the crown prince.
Cameron – who has been at the centre of a lobbying controversy concerning Greensill Capital – told the PA news agency: “As part of my work, I assisted with presentations made by the company overseas, including in the US, Singapore, South Africa, Australia and the Gulf.
“While visiting the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in January 2020 to advise on their forthcoming chairmanship of the G20, I also – with Lex Greensill – met with a range of business and political leaders, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“As the Softbank Vision Fund was by this time the largest investor in Greensill, the company was, in effect, part owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (itself a major participant in the Vision Fund).
“Greensill planned to open a new regional office in Riyadh as part of its international expansion and I wanted to assist in this effort.
“While in Saudi Arabia, I took the opportunity to raise concerns about human rights, as I always did when meeting the Saudi leadership when I was prime minister.”
In February this year, a declassified US intelligence report stated Crown Prince Mohammed, the son of King Salman and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, was likely to have approved an operation to kill or capture the journalist inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Cameron made the admission in addressing criticism over his lobbying of the government and after the Times reported that he lobbied the crown prince during a desert camping trip.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “On top of the questions swirling around about lobbying and the influence of financiers in the heart of Government, you have to ask whether former prime ministers should be cosying up to a leader implicated in the grisly cold-blooded murder of a Saudi journalist.
“At the same time that Mr Cameron was reportedly enjoying a desert tent banquet with the crown prince, women’s rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul were languishing in jail after having been tortured and threatened with long jail sentences.”