PGA Tour’s president may be removed, the judge rules

The head of the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, which is funding the new LIV Golf series, has been ordered by a federal magistrate judge to appear in a deposition by attorneys for the PGA Tour who sought his testimony as part of the complex legal proceedings involving the sport-splitting circuit.

The decision, which was made public on Thursday night in California following an interim legal dispute involving issues of sovereign immunity and the applicability of Saudi law, may provide information about the workings of the wealth fund and the authority of its governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan, over its foreign investments.

The wealth fund is anticipated to request a review of the magistrate court Susan van Keulen’s ruling in the acrimonious legal dispute between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf by a federal judge in San Jose, California.

The wealth fund was “plainly” “not a mere investor in LIV,” according to van Keulen’s 58-page decision, which was redacted in the version that was made public late Thursday as the parties sparred about its secrecy.

The wealth fund was “the driving force behind the formation, funding, oversight and management of LIV,” the judge said. In another section of her ruling, she stated that Al-Rumayyan “was intimately involved in and himself carried out several” of the wealth fund’s creation operations.

The LIV Golf Series Guide
1st card of 7
a fresh season. Long-standing concerns about athletes’ moral responsibility as well as their desire to compete and earn money were brought to the forefront in 2022 with the introduction of the Saudi-funded LIV Golf series. Observe the following:

Describe LIV Golf. A professional golf circuit that has broken away is supported by Saudi Arabia’s national wealth fund. The PGA Tour has been the highest level of professional golf for almost a century. Its administrators want to present it as a player-power-focused alternative.

Why is the new show in dispute? Golfers are agitating to change the game’s rules and traditions in response to the occurrence. Human rights advocates have also turned to it as a talking point, charging that Saudi Arabia is exploiting sports to tarnish its image.

Who is the musician? Leading athletes and previous major winners including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, and Cameron Smith have all signed up with LIV Golf. Yet, several of the most well-known athletes, like Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, have remained away.

What draws the players in? The LIV Golf competitions are the most expensive golf events ever. The winner’s share of the first tournament’s $25 million prize pool was $4 million. For each competition, $120,000 was promised for last place. Moreover, some athletes have received nine-figure signing-on payments and appearance fees.

How is the PGA Tour reacting to this? After denying them permission to take part in other events, the PGA Tour banned certain LIV Golf players. Later, it was revealed by the Justice Department that it was looking into allegations of anticompetitive activity by the PGA Tour. The competing tours have also been involved in a protracted legal dispute of their own.

Next, what? The tour announced a second season of 14 tournaments in 2023, which will feature trips at three of former President Donald J. Trump’s golf properties. The circuit also inked an agreement with the CW network to broadcast its events. The conflict between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, meanwhile, appears to be far from resolved.

The wealth fund declined to comment, but the wealth fund and al-Rumayyan “respectfully plan to seek review of the judgment,” according to their attorneys in a separate court filing. The order was first granted under secret by van Keulen last week.

A few great players have been lured away from the PGA Tour over the past year by LIV Golf, which is funded by billions of dollars by the Saudi wealth fund and offers some of the most lucrative contracts in the history of the sport. However, the high-profile players’ signings, such as those of Sergio Garcia, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, and Cameron Smith, have only partially shed light on LIV Golf’s goals and the reasons behind the wealth fund’s decision to invest billions of dollars in a venture that McKinsey & Company consultants warned was far from a sure thing.

LIV Golf and its winners claim they are working to revitalize a professional level sport that has, in their opinion, become stale. The PGA Tour and its backers say that the rebel series is endorsing a watered-down version of the game and enabling Saudi Arabia divert attention away from its track record on human rights. The PGA Tour is reportedly facing possibly the largest competitive challenge in its history.

The PGA Tour has painted LIV Golf as routinely being subject to the whims and desires of the wealth fund, formally known as the Public Investment Fund, and al-Rumayyan, an avowed golf fan who is close to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even though much of what it has learned in litigation remains under seal. The chairman of the wealth fund is Prince Mohammed.

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Eliot Peters, a lawyer representing the tour, frequently cited a shareholder agreement at a hearing before van Keulen in January. He said that it demonstrated the extent of Saudi involvement over LIV Golf, which will launch its second season with an event in Mexico on Friday.

According to Peters, the wealth fund was required to “consent to” the league’s operating budget, player participation contracts, sponsorship agreements, specific broadcasting contracts, and the start of litigation, such as the San Jose lawsuit that resulted in subpoenas for documents and testimony from the wealth fund and al-Rumayyan.

At a press announcement for a LIV Golf competition at Trump National Doral Golf Club, former PGA Tour players Louis Oosthuizen, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, and Cameron Smith are shown from left to right. Credit… The Associated Press’s Lynne Sladky

According to Peters, the wealth fund, which he said effectively controls 93 percent of LIV Golf, “consents to this action.” They were aware that it would be filed in a US court. They were aware that a subsidiary that they fully support would be bringing it. They were aware that it would include player contracts, which they have influence over. They were aware that it would have sponsor problems with the antitrust side, which they have control over. They were aware that it would entail broadcast agreements, which are crucial to the antitrust case and over which they have power and may decide whether to agree or disagree.

In addition, Peters informed the judge that al-Rumayyan had “personally guaranteed golfers” that the wealth fund would support them in court and that he had participated in LIV Golf-related meetings on a regular basis. Peters stated that the head of the wealth fund was so active in running the golf tournament that an email revealed he was “interested in an issue concerning the delay in golfers’ scores being broadcast on a TV screen.”

The wealth fund’s attorneys contended that Peters had overstated or, at the very least, misrepresented al-involvement Rumayyan’s and that complying with the PGA Tour’s requests would be illegal under Saudi law. Deposing al-Rumayyan, according to wealth fund attorney John Bash, would be comparable to the US Treasury secretary being subject to Saudi court orders if a US government-owned corporation was involved in a legal dispute in Riyadh. The court subsequently said, “I perceive a couple of key discrepancies between that parallel and the facts.

Wealth fund attorneys have also attempted to separate the wealth fund and al-Rumayyan from the golf league in addition to disputing the jurisdiction of American courts. The wealth fund “does not oversee LIV’s day-to-day activities,” the attorneys said in a file dated November. They also supplied a signed declaration from al-Rumayyan, who claimed that the wealth fund only offered “high level monitoring” of LIV.

But, the PGA Tour requested authorization from the court in late January to include the wealth fund and al-Rumayyan as defendants in the case. The motion has not been decided upon by Judge Beth Labson Freeman, who will also take into account any attempt by the wealth fund to have van Keulen’s ruling overturned.

The wealth fund’s legal arguments were largely rejected by van Keulen’s ruling about the subpoenas; for example, she came to the conclusion that the wealth fund’s work in the United States qualified as commercial activity under a statute governing foreign sovereign immunity. However, she did limit the subpoenas issued during the trip, stating that they “suffer from overbreadth both in scope and quantity of demands.” She also declared that the tour may re-serve the subpoenas, maintaining its ability to remove al-Rumayyan, even if she had previously ruled in favor of the wealth fund on a technical issue involving the subpoenas.

The wealth fund has already objected to al-desire Rumayyan’s to take part in US legal processes, and the golf case is not expected to go to trial until early next year. Elon Musk’s attorneys sent al-Rumayyan with a subpoena for testimony in a case regarding Musk’s claim that he would take Tesla private but then changed his mind when the wealth fund’s attorneys objected.

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