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Jessica Mathews

Silicon Valley and Saudi Arabia are still closely intertwined despite age-old controversy

(Credit: Stefan Wermuth—Getty Images)

It was just as Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing in Oct. 2018 that Saudi Arabia announced it had formed a global advisory board for the $500 billion passion project of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman: the futuristic megacity called NEOM.

The announcement spotlighted many venture capital and tech industry elites, such as Sam Altman, who was then the president of Y Combinator; Marc Andreessen, cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz; Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber; SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son; and IDEO’s then-CEO Tim Brown. 

These individuals would “help shape NEOM’s future” through their knowledge and “connections with potential long-term strategic partners,” NEOM’s CEO Nadhmi Al-Nasr said at the time.

Right after the announcement was made—with the Saudi government under global scrutiny for its role in Khashoggi’s disappearance—many of those individuals immediately attempted to distance themselves from the project: Altman and Brown stepped away from the project, Apple claimed its then-design chief, Jony Ive, had never been part of it. Others, like Marc Andreessen, declined to comment at the time.

The revelation that followed—that Khashoggi had been killed and then dismembered by agents of the Saudi government—led the U.S. tech ecosystem to take a second look at its backers. Some would publicly speak out and call the tech sector to dig into their investor base and pay attention to where their LP money was coming from. 

But the murder of Khashoggi doesn’t appear to have had too much of a long-term impact on the intertwined relationship between the Gulf, with its billions in oil money, and the tech industry’s deep pockets.

As was first reported by The Information yesterday afternoon, the Saudi Public Investment Fund venture arm, Sanabil Investments, recently made many of its venture investments public on its website, including previously undisclosed investments in dozens of firms spanning Andreessen Horowitz, Craft Ventures, TCV, Coatue, Polychain Capital, and the accelerator firm and venture fund Techstars.

Fortune reached out to 36 of the venture capital firms Sanabil Investments disclosed that it backs, as well as the aforementioned advisory board members. KKR and SoftBank, on behalf of Masayoshi Son, declined to comment. None of the other firms or individuals had responded by the time of publication. Representatives for Sanabil Investments and NEOM did not respond either.

In a statement to The Information, Village Global's cofounder said, “We think highly of the team there. We don’t otherwise share information about any of our LPs as we’re obligated by various confidentiality provisions in our agreements with them.”

Here is the full list of firms where Sanabil Investments reports to be a limited partner:

- 1984 Ventures
- 500 Startups
- 9Yards
- Andreessen Horowitz
- B Capital Group
- Coatue
- Collab Fund
- Costanoa Ventures
- Craft Ventures
- Dragoneer Investment Group
- eWTP Arabia Capital
- Flagship Pioneering
- G Squared
- General Atlantic
- Greenoaks Capital Partners
- Griffin Gaming Partners
- Human Capital
- ICONIQ Capital
- Insight Partners
- JAZZ Venture Partners
- JMI Equity
- Legend Capital
- March Capital
- OrbiMed
- Polychain Capital
- Race Capital
- Soma Capital
- Stripes
- TA Associates
- Techstars
- Third Point Venture
- Treasury Fund
- Uncorrelated
- Valar Ventures
- Valor Equity Partners
- Village Global

An update on NEOM…While it is unclear who serves on the advisory board of NEOM (or whether there is one at all), Saudi Arabia has pushed on with its grand plans for NEOM. Last month, the Saudi Arabia-focused human rights group ALQST, which conducted an investigation into the project, published a report alleging that five people of the Huwaitat tribe have been sentenced to death for peacefully resisting and speaking out against the forcible displacement of their tribe so that the land could be used for the project. At least 15 members of the tribe have allegedly been sentenced to prison between 15 and 50 years, according to ALQST. 

See you tomorrow,

Jessica Mathews
Twitter: @jessicakmathews
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