WASHINGTON — A Senate committee will attempt to obtain something lawyers for the PGA Tour could not: records from the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund.
Minutes before a second hearing on the PGA Tour-LIV Golf partnership began in front of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Wednesday, Chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal subpoenaed documents from PIF — the major financial backer of LIV Golf that would invest at least $1 billion under the framework merger agreement agreed to earlier this year.
“I’m frustrated and frankly angry,” Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) told Front Office Sports after the hearing concluded. “They seem to be hiding something pretty important to them. If they had nothing to hide, they’d certainly be willing to disclose what they’re doing here. It’s just really so deeply troubling.”
PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan turned down an invitation to appear before the committee, and the memorandum attached to the subpoena stated that PIF “repeatedly declined to voluntarily cooperate with the subcommittee’s investigation.”
“They’ve claimed that [Al-Rumayyan] is an official of a foreign government and therefore that he has this kind of immunity from official process,” Blumenthal said. “We’re beginning with this subpoena because, clearly, [PIF’s] U.S. subsidiary is subject to our laws. We are giving them the opportunity to do the right thing and come forward.”
During the hearing, the committee staff displayed slides showing PIF’s investments in professional sports, including Formula One, FIFA, Newcastle United, the ATP Tour, and the IOC. Saudi Arabia’s alleged use of those investments to rehabilitate its image globally via sportswashing was a major theme of the nearly two-hour hearing.
Wednesday’s hearing follows a July hearing where PGA Tour Policy Board member Jimmy Dunn and PGA Tour COO Ron Price testified about the framework of the partnership agreement that would unify the PGA Tour, LIV, and DP World Tour into one commercial entity.
“If you look at this as a business investment, it’s one of the worst business investments you could possibly think of,” Ben Freeman, director of Democratizing Foreign Policy at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, testified. “The ROI here is just non-existent. You look at this as a long-term influence investment. It might take years. It might take decades. It’s going to be very subtle. Investments like this from authoritarian regimes [are] long-term efforts to garner influence in the U.S.”
It was clear early in the hearing that Saudi Arabia’s influence in pro golf — and sports in general — wouldn’t be the only aim of the committee.
“I think the inquiry is expanding well beyond that,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin), the ranking member of the committee.
Johnson said he had conversations Monday with the FBI about finding out what the DOJ knows about Saudi Arabia’s links to 9/11. Johnson said the FBI turned over five pages of redacted documents that Johnson waived in front of him.
“If the DOJ and FBI continue to withhold these relevant documents, I hope this subcommittee will use every authority we have to compel compliance to our legitimate congressional oversight,” Johnson said. “Why should unelected bureaucrats be able to access and view these records without redactions, while duly elected members of Congress, who have full authority to view classified documents, why are we kept in the dark?”
Blumenthal told FOS that he hasn’t received an update on the status of the negotiations toward finalizing the LIV-PGA Tour partnership. The deal faces a Dec. 31 deadline, although that can be extended via a mutual agreement.