Report: Saudi Public Investment Fund asks for ‘sovereign immunity’ in court battle with PGA Tour

While LIV Golf attorneys are trying to shed light on the PGA Tour’s organizational structure and financial dealings as part of an anti-trust lawsuit, the head of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has insisted it shouldn’t have to do the same, claiming “sovereign immunity.”

According to a report from Bloomberg News, PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan on Tuesday asked a federal judge in California to quash a request by the PGA Tour to compel their testimony and produce documents for a lawsuit accusing LIV of unfair competition for offering players lucrative deals to break their PGA contracts.

The original suit, which was filed back in August by Phil Mickelson and 10 other golfers, was taken over by LIV Golf, which is under the PIF umbrella.

However, officials for the Saudi-run firm said they only have high-level oversight over LIV Golf and don’t deal with day-to-day operations. The request also stated the move could set a “dangerous precedent” if PIF had to reveal its books, as the company has investments in major corporations like Walmart and Starbucks and could be ripe for similar requests over any suits filed against companies it holds. The wealth fund, which was organized in 1971 as a means for the Saudi Arabian government to invest in various projects and companies, is currently estimated to be worth $676 billion.

“Now that LIV (Golf) is involved, it’s not necessary for me to be involved,’’ Mickelson said in September when he dropped out of the suit. “The only reason for me to stay in is (monetary) damages, which I don’t really want or need anything. I do think it’s important that the players have the right to play when and where they want, when and where they qualify for. And now that LIV (Golf) is a part of it, that will be accomplished if and when they win.’’

The original lawsuit, obtained by Golfweek, states:

As the Tour’s monopoly power has grown, it has employed its dominance to craft an arsenal of anticompetitive restraints to protect its long-standing monopoly. Now, threatened by the entry of LIV Golf, Inc. (“LIV Golf”), and diametrically opposed to its founding mission, the Tour has ventured to harm the careers and livelihoods of any golfers, including Plaintiffs Phil Mickelson, Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Bryson DeChambeau, Abraham Ancer, Carlos Ortiz, Ian Poulter, Pat Perez, Jason Kokrak, and Peter Uihlein (“Plaintiffs”), who have the temerity to defy the Tour and play in tournaments sponsored by the new entrant. The Tour has done so in an intentional and relentless effort to crush nascent competition before it threatens the Tour’s monopoly.

The PGA Tour then sent the U.S. District Court of Northern California a 32-page response to the initial lawsuit, plus a separate seven-page example of what it calls mischaracterizations and mistruths presented by the LIV players.

It then added a countersuit in September, seeking damages for brand and reputation damage.

While LIV has alleged the Tour uses monopoly power and illegally suspended players, the Tour’s countersuit claims LIV is using players, “and the game of golf to sportswash the recent history of Saudi atrocities and to further the Saudi Public Investment Fund’s Vision 2030 initiatives.”

LIV Golf has long been criticized as a way for the Kingdom to sportswash its human rights record with guaranteed money and multi-million dollar deals. Saudi Arabia has been accused of wide-ranging human rights abuses, including politically motivated killings, torture, forced disappearances and inhumane treatment of prisoners. And members of the royal family and Saudi government were accused of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist.