PGA Tour Challenges PIF Saudi Ties in Latest Court Filing Against LIV
The PGA Tour filed a 20-page brief in a California federal court on Friday insisting that LIV Golf’s primary funder, the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (PIF), is intentionally “inconsistent” about its relationship to the Kingdom—and that PIF’s acquisition of Newcastle United in 2021 proves the point.
The brief attempts to convince U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman to deny PIF’s challenge to a ruling last month by U.S. Magistrate Susan van Keulen, who greenlighted subpoenas of PIF and its governor, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan.
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The subpoenas would require PIF and Al-Rumayyan to share copies of emails, texts, memoranda and other materials related to LIV Golf’s pursuit of PGA Tour golfers and LIV’s business strategies. Al-Rumayyan would also be subject to in-person questioning and could be asked, under oath, about how international criticisms of the Saudi government impact PIF’s commercial opportunities. How those answers would intersect with Al-Rumayyan’s professional and legal obligations in Saudi Arabia are uncertain.
PIF, which has about $676 billion in assets, objects to the subpoenas, stressing that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) generally exempts foreign governments and leaders from U.S. litigation. Subjecting PIF and Al-Rumayyan—who holds the rank of “minister” in Saudi Arabia—to subpoenas would undermine the Kingdom’s interests, PIF contends. The subpoenas, for example, might lead to disclosures of sensitive government information or conflict with Saudi laws.
But Judge van Keulen wasn’t persuaded. She found the FSIA exemption inapplicable because FSIA permits questioning of government officials when they are engaged in commercial (as opposed to governmental) activities. PIF and Al-Rumayyan have been involved in LIV’s creation, funding, oversight and operation. Judge Freeman will now review the matter.
The PGA Tour’s latest brief highlights a statement from the Premier League issued when PIF purchasing 80% of Newcastle. “The Premier League has now received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club,” the statement said. A 2021 Associated Press story included relevant remarks from financier Amanda Staveley of PCP Capital Partners, which owns a stake in Newcastle. “PIF,” Staveley stressed, “is very much an autonomous, commercially driven investment fund, and it does not operate as part of the wider state. So there is that separation.”
The brief also refers to Sakab Saudi Holding Co. v. Ajabri, a Massachusetts case where a PIF subsidiary sued a former high-ranking Saudi official over an alleged scheme to move money offshore. The PGA Tour charges that PIF “voluntarily disclosed” sensitive documents, including due diligence and audit reports, to advance their legal arguments.
As the PGA Tour sees it, “PIF cannot immunize itself from unwanted discovery in this case based on [claims of confidentiality] but willingly disclose similar information in other litigation when doing so suits its interests.”
The ramifications of the LIV Golf-PGA Tour litigation go far beyond golf. Earlier this month, Amnesty International urged the Premier League to “re-examine the assurances made about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal” given that PIF attorneys are now calling the fund a “sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” to bolster their position vis-a-vis LIV.
PIF’s investments in various U.S. companies are also relevant. To the extent those companies face litigation, plaintiffs’ attorneys could argue that if PIF must comply with PGA Tour subpoenas, it should have to comply with subpoenas from other companies in business with PIF as well.
(This story has updated the headline.)