Saudi Arabia’s golf case threatens to spill kingdom secrets and techniques

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Officers who oversee Saudi Arabia’s tens of billions of {dollars} in U.S. investments haven’t been shy about flaunting their ties with prime American enterprise and political figures, all the way down to carrying MAGA caps as they swing golf golf equipment alongside former President Donald Trump. However they’ve been silent about lots of the particulars of those relationships.

That’s altering because of a federal lawsuit in California pitting the Saudi-owned golf tour upstart LIV in opposition to the PGA Tour. A choose, citing what she described as the dominion’s hands-on administration of LIV, discovered that when it got here to the brand new golf league, Saudi officers and the Saudi authorities aren’t shielded from U.S. courts the best way sovereign nations often are.

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Whereas Saudi Arabia is preventing the choice, insisting U.S. courts haven’t any jurisdiction over its excessive officers, the ruling means attorneys for the PGA Tour would be capable of query prime officers about enterprise secrets and techniques that the Saudis have held shut, reminiscent of particulars of deal-making involving 2024 presidential candidate Trump and others.

U.S. District Choose Beth Labson Freeman discovered that the Saudis had smacked up in opposition to a business exception to U.S. legal guidelines on sovereign immunity.

Yasir al Rumayyan, appointed below Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to handle the oil-rich Saudi authorities’s $600 billion-plus stockpile of wealth, is “as much as his eyeballs” in managing the golf tour, Labson Freeman declared.

The discovering follows PGA Tour claims that al Rumayyan himself recruited LIV gamers, accepted LIV contracts and was in any other case the golf league’s decision-maker and supervisor. Attorneys for Saudi Arabia counter that Rumayyan’s actions had been these of an keen investor, not of somebody really working a enterprise.

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The case issues past the world of golf. Saudi Arabia has been assertive in U.S. enterprise investments and political relationships and will now face court docket calls for for higher transparency and accountability.

The insistence by Saudi officers that U.S. courts have little or no say over their actions is particularly delicate. Final yr, the dominion, with authorized backing from the Biden administration, efficiently argued that American courts had no authority to strive the prince in a lawsuit over the 2018 killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence officers had concluded that aides and different Saudi officers despatched by the prince killed Khashoggi. The slaying has opened a long-lasting rift between the Biden administration and Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

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Longstanding worldwide legislation usually protects the leaders and authorities of 1 nation from being hauled into one other nation’s courts. Congress carved out business exercise as an exception to that sovereign immunity in 1976.

-The PGA Tour argued in a submitting Friday that Saudi Arabia and its sovereign wealth fund below the prince have a report of flip-flopping on insisting upon sovereign immunity, relying on whether or not doing so works to their benefit in numerous enterprise offers and lawsuits.

Saudi Arabia’s critics and unbiased authorized consultants and analysts say the dominion could also be in a troublesome spot legally.

“It appeared to me very clear that it wasn’t immune” from U.S. courts when it got here to working the LIV golf tour and tournaments, mentioned Donald Baker, a lawyer and a former head within the Justice Division’s antitrust division who is just not concerned within the case.

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Baker projected the case may result in California’s Northern District federal court docket searching for depositions from Saudi royals. Any choices on whether or not different Saudi authorities enterprise offers in the US have equally misplaced their immunity from U.S. courts must be made on a case-by-case foundation, he mentioned.

Sarah Leah Whitson, who runs the Democracy for the Arab World Now rights group based by Khashoggi, mentioned that “in the event that they need to have sovereign immunity from their enterprise transactions, it means they will sue folks, they will demand that the judicial system enforces contracts and the legal guidelines governing contracts, however no one can impose that in opposition to them. No person can maintain them accountable.”

The Saudi-funded skilled golf tour, now in its second season and with a slogan of “Golf, however louder,” is thought for its blaring music, report multimillion-dollar purses, ties with Trump and unfriendly rivalry with the PGA Tour. Trump programs this yr will host three LIV tournaments, in offers whose monetary phrases haven’t been publicly disclosed.

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Saudi Arabia’s immunity downside is available in an antitrust lawsuit that was initially introduced by LIV gamers in opposition to the long-established PGA Tour. The case already has revealed that the Saudi authorities’s sovereign wealth fund owns 93% of LIV.

A lawyer for Saudi Arabia’s facet of the case didn’t reply to an e mail from The Related Press searching for remark. A LIV spokeswoman referred inquiries to the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, which additionally didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Underneath the now eight-year rule of Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman, his son Prince Mohammed has made the dominion’s sovereign wealth fund a major software of Saudi funding at residence and overseas. The prince is the fund’s chairman. Saudi officers say the purpose is to diversify the dominion’s oil-funded financial system.

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Underneath Prince Mohammed and fund governor al Rumayyan, the fund has greater than $30 billion invested in Uber, Meta, luxurious electrical automotive model and Tesla rival Lucid, Paypal, Costco and different publicly traded U.S. companies.

The fund additionally has consolidated Saudis’ relationship with the Trump household, utilizing Trump golf programs and directing $2 billion to the funding agency of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Rumayyan sits on the board of Uber. He performs golf with Trump. He triggered one in all Elon Musk’s greatest tweet storms and authorized instances, when Musk tweeted about what he later testified was the prospect of a Saudi sovereign wealth fund deal to take Tesla personal.

The Saudi sovereign wealth fund is also spending closely on sports activities. Along with creating the LIV golf tour, the Saudis have purchased the Newcastle United soccer crew in Britain’s Premier League and hosted System One races, horse races with report prize cash, and different tournaments and matches, from snooker to boxing and chess.

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Saudi Arabia is presenting itself as an brisk, youthful and business-friendly authorities. Human rights teams counter with the phrase “sportswashing,” saying the dominion below Prince Mohammed’s affect is attempting to distance itself from the killing of Khashoggi, the jailing of different rights advocates, and a failed struggle in Yemen. U.S. critics paint Saudi Arabia’s monetary offers with Trump and Kushner because the oil kingdom backing one facet in America’s extremely partisan politics.

“They’re actually attempting to rebrand the dominion … utilizing sport to succeed in a a lot wider public viewers and attempting to faucet into a few of the ardour that folks have,” mentioned Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Center East on the Baker Institute in Houston.

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To shut the deal shopping for Newcastle United, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund offered what authorities mentioned had been “legally binding assurances” that the dominion wouldn’t be concerned in working the crew, although Rumayyan serves as crew chairman. Rights advocates argued unsuccessfully for a reexamination of that deal in gentle of the rulings of the California federal court docket.

Critics — and the PGA Tour attorneys in Friday’s submitting — additionally contend Saudi Arabia willingly waived sovereign immunity when it submitted authorities paperwork in one other U.S. case, in opposition to a Saudi who had served as a prime intelligence official below the earlier king. The US intervened to quash the case on the grounds it threatened to disclose nationwide safety secrets and techniques.

Within the golf lawsuit, LIV gamers and the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, formally known as the Public Funding Fund, argue that unfair practices by the PGA are harming LIV. PGA attorneys reply in filings that it’s the reputations of Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammed which might be scaring away enterprise.


AP Golf Author Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.


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