Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo: HansMusa/Shutterstock.com)

Thanks to their decision to stay home, JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman and BlackRock’s Larry Fink have helped to make the Saudi government’s so-called Davos in the Desert investment conference a household name.

Responding to the alleged murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the CEOs and other media and tech luminaries announced they would not participate in next week’s Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

But the Saudi Center of International Arbitration’s first international conference—which featured a handful of arbitration leaders at top international firms along with members of the Saudi cabinet—managed to fly under the radar just down the road.

The timing of the event meant that lawyers from King & Spalding, Norton Rose Fulbright, White & Case and other firms, along with leadership from the American Arbitration Association, were scheduled to brush shoulders in Riyadh on Monday and Tuesday with a member of the Saudi royal family and multiple cabinet officials while questions swirled about whether Saudi agents had been sent to Turkey to kill and dismember the Washington Post columnist.

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. (Photo credit: POMED via Wikimedia Commons)

The list of speakers included Prince Dr. Abdulaziz bin Sattam al Saud, and the Saudi ministers of Labor and Social Development, Justice, and Commerce & Investment. They were to be joined by a list of arbitration experts from around the world including UAE-based King & Spalding partner Adrian Cole, Norton Rose Fulbright international arbitration global co-head Mark Baker, and White & Case international arbitration head Paul Friedland.

“It was an honor to speak on the topic of cross examination at the Saudi Center of Commercial Arbitration’s first international conference,” Baker said in an email. “This important conference on international arbitration and mediation was attended by more than 750 ministers, academics and lawyers.”

Representatives of King & Spalding and White & Case did not respond to inquiries about whether their attorneys ultimately participated.

The list also featured AAA CEO India Johnson and general counsel Eric Tuchmann. An AAA representative also did not respond to an inquiry about their participation.

King & Spalding, Norton Rose Fulbright and White & Case are all among a short list of U.S.-based firms with substantial ties to Saudi Arabia. Saudi rules prevent international law firms from operating in the country without a local partner firm. King & Spalding’s alliance dates to 2006, and Norton Rose Fulbright has been there since 2005. White & Case, which handles significant work for state-owned Saudi Aramco, arrived in 1989.

More recently, Mayer Brown and Hogan Lovells announced tie-ups in the country earlier this year.

Hogan Lovells is one of several U.S. firms that have also done U.S. lobbying work for Saudi Arabia in the last year. In June, senior counsel Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota Republican senator, signed an agreement with a $125,000 monthly retainer for the entirety of 2018.

In August, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Theodore Olson agreed to put in time, including the preparation of an op-ed, opposing the proposed “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act” for a flat fee of $250,000. The bill, which was introduced this year in the U.S. House of Representatives, would expose OPEC to U.S. prosecution for any antitrust violations.

Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck also has an open lobbying relationship with the Kingdom, extending through the end of 2018, also at $125,000 monthly.

Representatives from all three firms did not respond to requests for comment.

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