PGA Tour accuses LIV Golf’s Saudi benefactors of claiming immunity from U.S. courts

A newly public court filing alleges that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and a lead executive have refused to produce documents or sit for depositions by claiming U.S. courts don’t have jurisdiction over them.LIV Golf’s financing from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund has loomed over the upstart golf circuit since its inception, above all in its battles with the PGA Tour. Now, the PGA Tour has accused LIV of attempting to evade discovery in their high-profile court battle by claiming that there is no court in the U.S. with jurisdiction over LIV’s financial backer, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, and its governor, Yasir Al-Rumayyan.LIV and the PGA Tour are in the early stages of a pitched courtroom battle in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that could alter the future landscape of professional golf. LIV and several of its golfers are suing the PGA Tour, alleging it has behaved as a monopolist to squash a rival start-up. The PGA Tour has countersued, accusing LIV of harming the Tour by interfering with its players and contracts. As part of that ongoing legal action, the two sides have been haggling over the discovery process. Typically, each side tries to narrow the scope of what documents and information the opposition will get access to.The latest allegation initially appeared in a sealed October filing by the PGA Tour in the Southern District of New York, the part of the country where the Tour had issued subpoenas to Al-Rumayyan and the PIF.The Tour’s filing to compel testimony from those parties said the recipients accepted the subpoenas but then refused to produce documents and declined to appear for depositions. “There is no serious dispute that PIF and Mr. Al-Rumayyan possess highly relevant discovery in the underlying action. PIF created, funded, and owns LIV; PIF and Mr. Al-Rumayyan have had effective control over LIV from its inception,” the filing said. ”PIF and Mr. Al-Rumayyan now assert that there is no court in the U.S. with jurisdiction over them; claim to be immune from discovery altogether; and deny that they are relevant to LIV’s lawsuit in any way.”On Friday, the filings became public after a Southern District of New York judge transferred the subpoena fight to the California court.A person familiar with LIV’s position said that the matter was a routine discovery dispute over jurisdictional issues and scope, and that discovery is always more complicated when it involves a foreign entity. Also on Friday, LIV filed a motion in California seeking to invoke the Hague Convention to compel the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews to turn over documents from its location in the United Kingdom.LIV has also claimed recent victories in the discovery wranglings, including orders for the PGA Tour to turn over more material.Al-Rumayyan and a spokesman for the PIF did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The gushers of foreign money that underpin LIV have been a source of controversy since even before the circuit teed off. Lawmakers and activists have accused LIV of “sportswashing”—or attempting to use golf’s popularity to improve the country’s global reputation. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, including the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has been central to those concerns. Those accusations got a boost when former President Donald Trump, whose New Jersey golf club hosted a LIV tournament, said that LIV Golf had been worth “billions of dollars” to Saudi Arabia and had been “a great thing” for the kingdom’s image. Congressman Chip Roy (R., Texas) and others have also questioned whether LIV and its lobbyists and consultants should be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1938 law originally designed to identify Nazi propagandists. It requires people working on behalf of foreign governments to publicly disclose certain information. LIV has maintained that FARA doesn’t apply because it is trying to change golf, not U.S. policy.“LIV is about the sport of golf,” a spokesman has said in response to earlier inquiries. “Our work is about sports, and we will continue to focus on our business, which is to grow the game of golf.”The PGA Tour’s filing adds to the rapidly growing number of battlefields inside the golf world. The sides are fighting courtroom battles from coast to coast in the U.S. The Justice Department has also launched an antitrust investigation into the Tour over its practices, a probe the Tour has said it would beat. There could be additional legal action from LIV in Europe as part of its quest to get accredited by the Official World Golf Rankings.On the course, LIV’s presence has already upended the sport. A number of high-profile players—Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Cameron Smith and Bryson DeChambeau, among others—have joined the rebel circuit that has offered record-breaking prize funds and lucrative appearance fees. The PGA Tour has banned the defectors for violating their contracts, while many who left simply resigned their Tour membership. The upheaval also sparked the Tour to alter its calendar and increase various prize funds for the players who have remained, which is still the vast majority of the top-ranked golfers.

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