The project is closely tied to the Saudi government, and particularly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Khashoggi had criticized in his reporting.
Turkish officials have alleged that a team of 15 Saudi nationals, including several with high-level government connections, killed Khashoggi. Reports citing officials have suggested that the crown prince ordered his killing.
On October 9, Neom announced the members of its global advisory board, which includes former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Soft Bank CEO Masayoshi Son.
Shortly after the announcement, the head of Y Combinator, Sam Altman, told The Intercept he was suspending his involvement “until the facts regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance are known.” Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo, also declined to participate, but a representative didn’t tell the news outlet why.
Neelie Kroes, a former European Commission vice president, told The Wall Street Journal she would suspend her involvement “until more is known.”
Ernest Moniz, the former US energy secretary, said in a statement to Business Insider: “Given current events, I am suspending my participation on the Neom board. Going forward, my engagement with the advisory board will depend on learning all the facts about Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance over the coming days and weeks.”
Both Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of the Google-backed company Sidewalk Labs, and Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, said they were incorrectly cited as board members, though it’s unclear whether they were once attached to the project.
The Intercept quoted an unnamed source close to members of the advisory board as saying some were “inclined to just stay on the board,” but the person added that it could change.
Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, many in the tech community had celebrated Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 plan, designed to boost economic activity by making the nation less dependent on oil. As part of this vision, Neom would develop industries including energy, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing, and entertainment. But that could become difficult – if not impossible – if executives no longer wish to participate.
The crisis over Khashoggi’s disappearance could also complicate other plans with outside backing – a report from November said Saudi Arabia had about 4,700 active construction projects, worth a total of R12 trillion.