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Saudi-backed LIV Golf accused of using PGA lawsuit to get 9/11 families' data

LIV says PGA used the firm to coordinate protests with 9/11 families
Groups of 9/11 victims and families protested LIV events in the US last year.
Groups of 9/11 victims and families protested LIV events in the US last year (AFP/File photo)

The Saudi Arabia-financed LIV Golf was accused this week of using its US lawsuit against the PGA Tour to "build an intelligence file" on families of 9/11 victims who have been critical of Riyadh and its new professional golf tour.

At the centre of the legal battle is Clout Public Affairs, a public relations and consulting firm that represents the PGA. In a separate case, Clout's other client, 9/11 Justice, a group consisting of victims of the September 2001 attacks as well as relatives of those victims, is suing Saudi Arabia in relation to the attacks.

In a legal filing submitted on Tuesday, Clout accused LIV of hiring a third-party firm to track the 9/11 group.

"[LIV Golf] seeks information not only on Clout’s work regarding LIV and golf, but chillingly, it also seeks to sift any communications Clout has had with 9/11 families about the Saudi league, their sovereign wealth fund, and the agents that have been hired to track and monitor 9/11 families in the United States," the motion read.

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"LIV has brazenly hired a firm in the United States to track and monitor the activities of these 9/11 victims and families, while simultaneously, through the underlying lawsuit, using antitrust discovery to now sift Clout’s communications with these families, even if they have nothing to do with LIV, golf, or golfers," Clout said in the filing.

Middle East Eye reached out to LIV’s lawyer, Keith Frost of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

The Saudi-backed tour has argued that the PGA is secretly running a "smear campaign" against LIV.

The two golf associations have been engaged in a battle over the past year after a number of key golf stars decided to sign with LIV, including three-time Master's champion Phil Mickelson, who said the Saudi golf league gave him and golfers willing to participate "leverage" against the PGA Tour.

Groups of 9/11 victims and families protested LIV events in New Jersey and Portland last year, including at a tournament held at former US President Donald Trump's golf resort, accusing Saudi Arabia of using its golf tournaments to "sportswash" the kingdom's human-rights abuses. 

After the PGA began to suspend golfers who were leaving for LIV, the Saudi tour joined an antitrust suit against the PGA, which said the US tour was an "entrenched monopolist" attempting to restrict its supply of star golfers.

In December 2022, LIV submitted a court filing to force a subpoena demanding that Clout hand over its communications with the PGA and any internal documents about the US tour.

LIV's filing argued that the PGA hired Clout in part to arrange for 9/11 families to protest at LIV events.

"As it turns out, the PGA Tour itself has been secretly fomenting the very anti-Saudi sentiment that it now uses to justify its illegal conduct," LIV said in its motion to compel Clout to comply with the subpoena.

LIV has said the PGA turned over evidence in the antitrust case showing it "organized and likely funded" the 9/11 families’ protests.

Clout blasted LIV for its claim, saying the Saudi tour was living in a "dream world" for asserting that the PGA needed to coordinate an effort to foment anti-Saudi sentiment in the US. It further claims that LIV's demands violate the First Amendment privilege between Clout and its client.

"LIV’s casual assumption that it is a simple golf league that was suddenly smeared with an unexpected political attack is utterly false," Clout said. "LIV was conceived as a PR vehicle by Kingdom consultants as a last-ditch effort to dull the massive public backlash from the Khashoggi murder and other current events."

Clout added that 9/11 Justice has a "reasonable fear" that disclosure of their internal communications could reveal phone numbers and other personal information that "could well lead to hacking or other retaliation".

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