News | Tech: A Google linked exec and a former US politician have dropped out of a Saudi project after journalist's disappearance

Tech: A Google linked exec and a former US politician have dropped out of a Saudi project after journalist's disappearance

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  • Members of an advisory board for a $500 billion Saudi megacity project are distancing themselves from the organisation after the reported murder of a dissident Saudi journalist.
  • Google-linked executive Dan Doctoroff and ex-US secretary of energy Ernest Moriz have now dropped out of the project.
  • Apple's Jony Ive was initially on the list, but Apple says his inclusion was a mistake and he has nothing to do with the project.
  • The other 16 members of the board did not respond to Business Insider's multiple requests for comment.

A senior executive who works for Google's parent company and a former US secretary of energy have dropped out of a Saudi Arabia tech and business advisory board following international outcry over the disappearance and alleged murder of a dissident Saudi journalist.

On Tuesday, the Saudi news outlet Argaam reported that Neom — a $500 billion megacity project being built by the country — had formed a new advisory board.

Members mentioned in the announcement included famed tech industry investor Marc Andreessen; Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Google parent company Alphabet's urban planning unit Sidewalk Labs; Travis Kalanick, ex-CEO of Uber; former European Commission vice president Neelie Kroes; ex-Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris, and Silicon Valley investor Sam Altman.

But following inquiries from journalists, members have started distancing themselves from the project.

First was Apple's chief design officer Jony Ive: The initial list published by Argaam said that he was a member, but Apple subsequently said his inclusion was a mistake and that he should never have been on the list in the first place. (Argaam and Neom did not respond to Business Insider's requests for comment.)

Then on Wednesday, Ernest Moriz, the former US secretary of energy, said he was "suspending" his involvement until more is known about Khashoggi's disappearance.

"Six months ago, I was invited to join an international advisory board for development of NEOM, a smart city of the future being built from the ground up in northwestern Saudi Arabia. In particular, I have been asked to offer guidance on achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions. Success with this vision will have global implications for a low carbon future," he said in a statement provided to Business Insider by a spokesperson.

"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."

Also on Wednesday, Sidewalk Labs' Doctoroff retreated. In a statement, spokesperson Dan Levitan said "Dan Doctoroff's inclusion on that list is incorrect. He is not a member of the NEOM advisory board." Levitan did not respond to further questions as to whether Doctoroff had ever agreed to be part of the board.

Even after those departures, 16 members remain on the board, though its future looks uncertain. The other members either did not respond to Business Insider's requests for comment about their involvement, or were not reachable for comment.

The new tech advisory board's announcement came as much of the news on Saudi Arabia was focused on the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government who disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey last week. The New York Times and several other news organizations report that Khashoggi was murdered by a team of 15 Saudi agents inside the consulate. A report in the Guardian on Tuesday said that Turkish authorities are focused on a black van seen leaving the consulate that they believe was carrying Khashoggi's body.

Here was the initial 19-member list, according to Argaam:

1) Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator and the co-chair of OpenAI

2) Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz

3) Tim Brown, CEO and president of IDEO

4) Timothy Collins, vice chairman and CEO of Ripplewood Advisors

5) Alexandra Cousteau, a senior advisor to Oceana

6) Dan Doctoroff, founder and CEO of Sidewalk Labs

7) Norman Robert Foster, founder and CEO of Foster + Partners\

8) Janvan Hest, a chemistry professor

9) Jonathan Ive, Apple's chief design officer

10) Travis Kalanick, CEO of City Storage Systems

11) Neelie Kroes, a retired Dutch politician and vice-president of the European Commission

12) Andrew N. Liveris, former CEO and chairman of Dow Chemical Company

13) Ernest Moniz, founder of Energy Futures Initiative

14) Marc Raibert, a former Carnegie Mellon University professor and a founder of Boston Dynamics

15) Carlo Ratti, a professor of Urban Technologies and Planning, and director of SENSEable City Lab

16) John Rossant, founder and chairman of the New Cities Foundation

17) Masayoshi Son, a Japanese business magnate and chief executive officer of Japanese holding conglomerate SoftBank

18) Rob Speyer, Tishman Speyer president and chief executive officer

19) Peter Voser, chairman of ABB.

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By Kwame Ntow 10/10/2018 18:20:00