[PHOTO: Rob Carr]

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund governor is evading testifying in the United States Senate’s probe into the probed partnership between the PGA Tour and PIF, a US Senator contends.

In a letter made public overnight, Australian time, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations pushed back on PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan’s claim that he qualifies as an “inappropriate witness”. According to Blumenthal, Al-Rumayyan and his counsel have argued he is a “minister bound by the Kingdom’s laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information” and that the subcommittee’s request for documents from PIF raises significant legal considerations due to diplomatic immunity.

However, as Blumenthal notes, this is the same argument that Al-Rumayyan unsuccessfully made in the PGA Tour’s countersuit against LIV Golf. In Feburary, federal magistrate judge Susan van Keulen rejected LIV’s arguments that the PIF and Al-Rumayyan were protected by sovereign immunity laws because Al-Rumayan’s conduct “falls within the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act”.

“As the Subcommittee’s July 27, 2023, letter makes clear, PSI is seeking to understand the scope of PIF’s US-based investments and PIF’s plans for the PGA Tour and other US entities,” Blumenthal wrote. “Your testimony and the production of the requested documents are both necessary to effectuate that goal.

“In short, PIF cannot have it both ways: if it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight. That oversight includes this subcommittee’s inquiry.”

Al-Rumayyan is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s inner circle and considered the mastermind of the Golf Saudi and LIV Golf projects. It was Al-Rumayyan who brokered a framework agreement with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and board members Jimmy Dunne and Ed Herlihy, a deal that paused a contentious year-long battle in the professional game and ended litigation between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour. He also appeared with Monahan on CNBC in a televised interview to announce the proposed deal.

Though the PGA Tour maintains it controls LIV Golf’s destiny as part of the proposed deal, Al-Rumayyan has asserted to LIV Golf members and staff the league will continue, and documents released by Congress contain language in the framework agreement that may give Al-Rumayyan final say over the matter. Al-Rumayyan is also expected to be the chairman of the new for-profit entity created by PIF, the PGA Tour and DP World Tour.

Al-Rumayyan was invited to testify before the United States Senate in June but he and LIV Golf chief executive Greg Norman declined due to scheduling issues. In the letter, Blumenthal wrote, “Your apparent reluctance to voluntarily appear raises questions about the veracity of your previously cited scheduling conflicts.” Blumenthal said he expects Al-Rumayyan’s compliance for the production of documents by August 18 and to appear in front of the PSI on September 13. Blumenthal promised that the PSI will pursue all avenues to get Al-Rumayyan to talk with the group.

According to Blumenthal, the proposed PGA Tour-PIF deal “raises concerns about the Saudi government’s role in influencing this effort and the risks posed by a foreign government entity assuming control over a cherished American institution”. The alliance could be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which analyses mergers regarding potential threats to their nation’s security.

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Blumenthal has threatened to strip the tour’s tax-exempt status over the Saudi deal, although the proposed partnership between the tour and PIF would be a for-profit entity. During the July 11 Senate hearing into the PGA Tour-PIF proposal, it was revealed that PIF will be investing more than $US1 billion into the new venture, and that Al-Rumayyan had sought membership with Augusta National and the R&A as part of the deal.