Human rights, Middle East, New in Lobbying

Interior nominee’s Saudi work draws fire

President Joe Biden‘s pick for the No. 2 spot at the Interior Department is taking flak from Saudi critics in Washington following revelations that he worked for a pet project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that has been accused of forcibly displacing native people to make room for a futuristic megacity.

Tommy Beaudreau revealed his work for the Neom Company in a financial disclosure filing with the US Office of Government Ethics on Thursday. The form requires the disclosure of sources of income worth $5,000 or more.

Source: US Office of Government Ethics
Tommy Beaudreau / Latham & Watkins

Beaudreau is a partner with Latham & Watkins. The US firm was hired to help set up a court system for the city, with judges reporting directly to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, according to leaked planning documents revealed by the Wall Street Journal in 2019.

This is the first time Beaudreau has been directly linked to Neom. He did not respond to requests for comment about the extent of his work for the company, which was first reported by investigative news outlet Sludge.

Beaudreau’s involvement with Neom is particularly noteworthy as he would serve as the deputy to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the position. Saudi authorities have been accused of displacing thousands of members of the Huwaitat tribe to make room for the $500 billion project and killing a protester last year.

“It’s a bit discombobulating that Biden’s nominee for deputy Interior Secretary — the very mission of which is to protect natural resources and honor tribal communities — is someone who has been helping Mohamed bin Salman raze entire villages in Saudi Arabia, displace tens of thousands of the local Huwaitat tribe, and implement a foreign legal system exclusively for colonists in the future city of Neom,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a human rights group inspired by murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. “If Neom is any reflection of Beaudreau’s priorities and values, it’s highly doubtful he will have the bona fides to protect and honor our own country’s natural resources and native peoples.”

Riyadh says Abdulrahim al-Huwaiti was killed by special forces after firing at them. The kingdom insists everyone being asked to move is being adequately compensated.

In addition to the tribal displacements, Neom has also come under fire for its links to Prince Mohammed, which the US government blames for ordering Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. Some of the crown prince’s most vociferous congressional critics, including Sens. Ron Wyden (R-Ore.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), sit on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that will consider Beaudreau’s nomination.


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Neom is a cornerstone of the crown prince’s Vision 2030 plan to transform the Saudi economy away from oil. It is wholly owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which in turn is chaired by the crown prince. The fund has become a target of activists following revelations that it owned the two jets used by Khashoggi’s assassins to fly to Istanbul.

Faced with bad press over the displacements and investor skepticism over its viability, Neom has hired a bevy of public relations firms over the past couple of years. Four have registered with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) :

  • New York CEO advisory firm Teneo; June 2019: $2.1 million;
  • BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe); April 2020: $1.1 million;
  • New York PR firm Ruder Finn; June 2020: $1.7 million; and
  • Chicago-based Edelman; Nov. 2020: $225,000.