Norman Foster pulls away from Saudi mega-city board over Khashoggi crisis

UK architect and House of Lords peer Norman Foster has suspended his membership of a board advising the Saudi government on a vast new city development, "Neom", over the now confirmed murder of Saudi dissident journalist, Jamal Khashoggi.

"Earlier this week Lord Foster wrote to the head of the NEOM Advisory Board stating that whilst the situation remains unclear he has suspended his activities in respect of the Board," his firm Foster + Partners said in a statement emailed to GCR yesterday.

Neom is a planned $500bn high-tech city to be built from scratch in the country’s northwest, intended as a 26,500-sq-km global haven for futuristic business sectors.

It is a flagship scheme of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s "Vision 2030" plans for modernising the Saudi economy away from oil.

Foster joins a string of high profile figures who have quit the Neom advisory board over the Khashoggi crisis, including former US secretary of energy Ernest Moniz; Alphabet executive Dan Doctoroff (Alphabet is Google’s parent company); Neelie Kroes, a former vice president of the European Commission; and Sam Altman, partner at venture capital firm Y Combinator.

Also yesterday, it was reported that Peter Voser, chairman of Swiss engineering giant ABB, had suspended his membership of the mega-city’s board, which was announced on 9 October as alarm and anger mounted over the disappearance of Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul a week earlier.

Defections from the board will hurt bin Salman’s plans for Neom, as the scheme requires investment from global firms in the high-tech business clusters planned.

To be governed by its own laws, the city’s aim was "to be one of the most important economic and scientific capitals in the world," the Saudi official announcement said in October last year.

Foster’s decision comes amid dramatic changes to the Saudi’s government’s explanation of what happened to Khashoggi.

After nearly three weeks of fierce denials, the government on Friday finally admitted Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate, but unintentionally, as a result of a "fight".

Then last night, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News that the journalist had been killed in a "rogue operation".

Image: Architect Norman Foster at the inauguration of Dresden’s refurbished central railway station (bigbug21/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic)

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  1. Greatest respect to Norman Foster for putting principle before commercial interest, and a great example set by a Peer. Maybe other Peers, and, heavens forfend, even MPs may follow his example and take a similar stance.

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