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US senator threatens ‘legal methods’ to force Saudi official's testimony in PGA case

Senator Blumenthal says Saudi Public Investment Fund 'cannot have it both ways', and must be subject to US law
Yasir al-Rumayyan takes a shot in the Pro-Am round of the LIV Golf Invitational Series event at The Centurion Club in St Albans, north of London, on 8 June 2022
Yasir al-Rumayyan, head of Saudi Arabia's PIF, at the LIV Golf Invitational Series at the Centurion Club in St Albans, north of London, on 8 June 2022 (AFP)

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal, who has been leading calls for an investigation into the deal made between Saudi-backed LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, has sent a letter challenging a Saudi official's refusal to offer voluntary testimony during a Senate hearing.

Blumenthal sent letters on Wednesday to Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, as well as the consulting firms McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Teneo, and M Klein & Company, which have advised Saudi Arabia on strategic investments in the US, according to the senator.

"The suggestion that your role as a Saudi Foreign Minister shields you from testifying about PIF’s commercial activities is both deeply troubling and unsupported as a legal matter," Blumenthal said in his letter addressed to Rumayyan.

"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."

Blumenthal, who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, opened a probe in June into the recent deal made between LIV Golf and the PGA Tour, a move that ended a contentious legal dispute between the two and sent shockwaves through the world of sports.

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The LIV Golf circuit launched in 2022 and lured some high-profile players away from rival circuits, including the PGA Tour, with staggering sums of money.

The Senate committee first sent out a request to Rumayyan on 21 June, asking him to testify at an 11 July hearing. The PIF declined the request, citing scheduling issues.

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Blumenthal's letter on Wednesday said the committee then sent a second request for Rumayyan to testify in September, which was then met with a refusal from PIF’s legal counsel, which said Rumayyan would be "an inappropriate witness" because he was a government minister "bound by the kingdom’s laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information".

The senator rejected the claim, citing a California district court decision stipulating that the PIF governor was not exempt from testifying in legal matters connected to the fund's commercial activities.

Blumenthal said he would consider "other legal methods" to force Rumayyan to testify if he continued to refuse. Rumayyan was given until 18 August to comply with the committee's request for documents regarding the fund's commercial activities in the US.

Middle East Eye reached out to the Saudi embassy in Washington for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. 

Saudi Arabia's US business dealings

The US senator's letter also pointed to larger concerns about Saudi Arabia's investments in the country.

The PIF has invested heavily in a number of American companies. It has $2.3bn worth of investments in Uber, for example, where Rumayyan sits on the board.

Saudi Arabia has also invested in a number of American venture capital firms, and other major companies including Amazon; Microsoft; Alphabet, Google's parent company; and investment firm, Blackrock.

"PIF is a commercial entity with extensive business dealings in the United States," Blumenthal said in his letter.

"PIF’s recent dealings with the PGA Tour demonstrate that it intends to be much more than a passive investor in the American enterprises in which it houses its considerable wealth."

While the Senate's investigation is focused on the LIV-PGA deal, a testimony before US lawmakers could have significant implications for Rumayyan.

According to a report by The Guardian, Rumayyan was ordered to seize and transfer 20 companies to the sovereign wealth fund in 2017. According to internal Saudi documents filed to a civil court in Canada as part of an unrelated case, a close aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Rumayyan to make the transfers. 

The report stated that the charter jet company which was later allegedly used in the Saudi plot to kill Khashoggi, was one of the companies transferred to the PIF under Rumayyan in 2017.

The documents do not suggest Rumayyan had any involvement in or knowledge of the plot to kill Khashoggi, but the transfer could be brought up in questioning if Rumayyan were to make an appearance at a hearing.

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