Saudi replaces chief executive of NEOM mega city

Riyadh (AFP) –


Saudi Arabia has replaced the CEO of its NEOM mega city project less than a year after the unveiling of the $500 billion venture billed as a regional Silicon Valley.

Klaus Kleinfeld, appointed NEOM's first CEO when the project was announced last October, will take over "wider responsibilities" as an advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a statement said late Monday.

Nadhmi al-Nasr, a member of NEOM's founding board and a veteran of state oil giant Saudi Aramco, will take over from Kleinfeld from August 1, according to the statement.

NEOM, part of a series of multi-billion-dollar projects as the oil-reliant kingdom seeks to diversify, was announced with much fanfare in October at Riyadh's first Future Investment Initiative that sought to project the insular country as a business destination.

The Saudi government has said NEOM will draw investments worth $500 billion from the kingdom's vast Public Investment Fund, as well as local and international investors.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, has dazzled investors with a host of hi-tech "giga projects", but sceptics question their viability as the kingdom scrambles to diversify its economy in an era of cheaper oil.

The kingdom has also announced plans to build a Walt Disney-style "entertainment city" known as Qiddiya and a reef-fringed resort destination in the Red Sea -- both worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Such projects are the brainchild of Prince Mohammed, architect of a sweeping reform programme dubbed "Vision 2030".

The reforms stem partly from a motivation to boost domestic spending and attract foreign investment as the kingdom has been reeling from an oil price slump since mid-2014.