After a number of defeats in its litigious battle against the PGA Tour, LIV Golf has earned a win.
Last month a federal magistrate judge ruled that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and its governor can be deposed and must produce documents in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit and countersuit between the tour and LIV. However, earlier this week Judge Beth Labson Freeman ruled the motion has been stayed pending further investigation.
US Federal magistrate judge Susan van Keulen had rejected LIV’s arguments that the PIF and Yasir Al-Rumayyan are protected by sovereign immunity laws because Al-Rumayan’s conduct “falls within the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act”. Should the ruling hold, it would give unprecedented access into the business dealings of the sovereign wealth fund, which Saudi Arabia has long fought to keep secret. But according to Freeman, there are “a number of thorny issues, including application of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, whether Mr Al-Rumayyan is entitled to common law immunity from enforcement of PGA’s subpoena”.
The tour has argued LIV is the end result of a “long-contrived plan” to take over professional golf as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which Australian Golf Digest has detailed here. The PIF is the primary backer of LIV, and documents the PGA Tour obtained in discovery in December allege that PIF and Al-Rumayyan were “instrumental in inducing players to breach their tour contracts”. The tour argues Al-Rumayyan personally recruited players, “played an active role in contract negotiations, and expressly approved each of the player contracts – all while knowing that these deals would interfere with the players’ tour contracts.”
LIV has countered that the PIF was a “mere investor”, but van Keulen rejected those assertions, writing it was evident the PIF was “the moving force behind the founding, funding, oversight and operation of LIV”. Al-Rumayyan, who is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle, is considered the mastermind of the Golf Saudi and LIV Golf projects. Though Greg Norman has been the public-facing leader of LIV Golf, sources familiar with LIV tell Golf Digest Al-Rumayyan and Majed Al Sorour were the two people who had final say over LIV Golf/Golf Saudi matters. Earlier this year Al Sorour was transitioned out of managing director of LIV Golf.
LIV Golf is hosting the second event of its second season this weekend in Arizona.