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How long does outrage over a murder last? On Wall Street, six months.

Catherine Rampell on

WASHINGTON -- What's the expiration date on moral outrage over a gruesome murder?

On Wall Street, at least, the answer seems to be roughly six months.

Six-and-a-half months ago, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was my colleague at The Washington Post, walked into the Saudi Consulate in Turkey to take care of some paperwork. Then he vanished. In the days and weeks that followed, the world learned that a 15-member hit team dispatched by the Saudi government had strangled the 59-year-old Khashoggi, dismembered him with a bone saw while listening to music, and disposed of his body.

The CIA would conclude that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country's de facto ruler, had ordered the assassination. The Saudi government claims otherwise, protesting that Mohammed -- while known for micromanaging far more minor affairs in the kingdom -- had been totally in the dark. MBS, as the crown prince is known, was shocked (shocked!) that his thugs had not merely politely kidnapped the dissident as instructed.

However upsetting Khashoggi's death was for his grieving fiancee, children, colleagues, friends and admirers worldwide, MBS was surely more outraged than them all. After all, the murder was super inconvenient for the crown prince, at least timing-wise.

Khashoggi's assassination occurred just weeks before the splashy Future Investment Initiative forum, a "Davos in the Desert" designed to highlight Mohammed's economic and social reforms. Persuading global business elites to attend a conference with this theme so soon after the state had murdered a high-profile champion of Saudi liberalization would be complicated.

 

And it did look as though some of these global elites had pangs of conscience -- or pangs of PR concerns, anyway. At first.

International executives and public figures dropped out of "Davos in the Desert" by the dozens. Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, boycotted the event, explaining that the bank "couldn't be seen in any way condoning" the murder.

Goldman Sachs said its partner who had planned to attend, former White House official Dina Powell, wouldn't go, either. The bank's newly minted chief executive, David Solomon, proclaimed on CNBC, "This incident is unacceptable, and clearly they have to answer questions."

Goldman continued to quietly send other, more junior people, however. So did other institutions. HSBC, for instance, pulled its chief executive, John Flint, but dispatched a lower-ranking executive.

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