Amid an escalating crisis over the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi authorities have announced Foster’s place on the advisory board of its $500 billion NEOM project
An official statement seen by the AJ and dated last Tuesday (9 October) announced that Foster is one of 18 ‘global experts’ on NEOM’s global advisory board, which would help realise the mission of the proposed desert mega-city, described as the world’s most ambitious project.
The news comes amid a scramble by Western politicians and business leaders to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia amid allegations that it had the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered in Istanbul on 2 October, something the country has strongly denied.
Yesterday both the US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and UK international trade secretary Liam Fox pulled out of a major investment conference being held next week in Riyadh – the Future Investment Initiative summit – following earlier withdrawals by a string of business leaders.
The Future Investment Initiative conference is to be hosted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and last year’s event saw him announce NEOM, a ‘smart’ city of 10,200 square miles planned in the north-west of the kingdom and part of his ambitious ‘Saudi Vision 2030’ plan to diversify the economy away from oil.
The NEOM advisory board met for the first time in New York in August and its 18 members include former Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick and Italian architect and MIT professor Carlo Ratti.
Some of the board members have already begun distancing themselves from NEOM, including Ernest Moniz, a former US secretary of energy under President Obama, who said last week that he was suspending his participation until the facts of Khashoggi’s disappearance became known.
A spokesperson for another member, Dan Doctoroff, chief executive of Google parent company Alphabet’s urban planning unit Sidewalk Labs, claimed in a statement that NEOM had been ‘incorrect’ to include Doctoroff on its list of advisory board members.
Khashoggi’s suspected fate has been blamed on the Crown Prince, the Kingdom’s de facto leader, by numerous figures, including Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican senator and adviser to President Trump.
On Tuesday Graham described the prince as a ‘toxic’ figure.
‘I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States senate,’ Graham said. ‘This guy is a wrecking ball. Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it.’
Foster + Partners has been contacted for comment.
A spokesperson for Carlo Ratti said: ‘Both Carlo and our team are gravely concerned about the Khashoggi case.
‘We are monitoring the situation closely as it develops hour by hour. We are waiting for the results of the US investigation to evaluate the best course of action.’