Sunday 21 October 2018 3:24 pm

ABB chairman breaks away from Saudi mega-city project amid Khashoggi case


Former Shell chief executive and chairman of Swiss engineering firm ABB Peter Voser is the latest high-profile figure to distance himself from the advisory board of Saudi Arabia's $500bn £382.5bn) mega-city project Neom.

The move follows the exit of a string of global business and political leaders from an upcoming investment conference in Riyadh. International ties to the region have been breaking down amid an ongoing investigation into the death of well-known Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

A spokesperson for ABB told City A.M. that Voser had decided to suspend his participation on the board in light of the current circumstances, while ABB chief executive Ulrich Spiesshofer will also not attend the event.

The Future Investment Initiative conference has been rattled by cancellations from senior executives across the world, most recently including Deutsche Bank chief Christian Sewing, UK trade secretary Liam Fox and Airbus defence chief Dirk Hoke.

Read more: World leaders push back against Saudi account of journalist’s death

City A.M. learned earlier this week that design firm IDEO chief Tim Brown had pulled out entirely from his advisory role on the Neom project. 

Other board members, including former Uber executive Travis Kalanick, Oceana adviser Alexandra Cousteau and Y Combinator president Sam Altman, have yet to clarify their positions on the matter.

Spokespeople for Softbank president Masayoshi Son and Andreessen Horowitz general partner Marc Andreessen declined to comment on their involvement.

The Zurich-based robotics and automation technology firm ABB had initially told City A.M. at the beginning of last week that it was "carefully monitoring developments" in the region, but updated its decision on Friday.

Read more: US Treasury secretary withdraws from Saudi conference

The full list of 19 board members, announced on Tuesday by Saudi news outlet Argaam, had originally included names such as Apple design chief Jony Ives and Sidewalk Labs' Dan Doctoroff, who both contested to Business Insider that their inclusion on the list was incorrect. The Neom website does not list Ives or Doctoroff as advisers.

The official Twitter account for the project said the board will include "a team of the world's leading minds and experts combining the best and brightest global experts to develop the future".

Neom itself will be backed by an investment of more than $500bn from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, and local and international investors.