The US Senate yesterday (Sep. 13) subpoenaed the US subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) for more information on the controversial merger of rival golf tournaments PGA and LIV.
The permanent subcommittee on investigations issued the summons “for documents related to PIF’s takeover of American golf and related investments” after the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund refused to voluntarily comply with information requests, according to the order issued during the second hearing on the PGA-LIV transaction. The Senate is demanding records of PIF’s investments, assets, and organizational structure in the US.
Having started a golf league called LIV, Saudia Arabia bankrolled its takeover of the PGA Tour—a deal that was formally announced in June. The transaction has been seen as a Saudi attempt to “sportwash” its reputation, which is otherwise notorious for human rights abuses and ruinous fossil fuel production. At a Senate hearing in July, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut—and one of the signatories on yesterday’s subpoena—called the PGA-LIV merger a vehicle for the “brutal, repressive regime” to “buy influence” in US sports in order to “cleanse its public image.”
The reign of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has been a checkered one. He has been accused of ordering the murder of journalists, jailing dissdents, and sponsoring terrorism. Yet he wields significant decision-making powers, cherry-picking and fast-tracking the investments of his choice. The PIF operates “with little transparency or independence,” Joey Shea, Human Rights Watch’s Saudi Arabia researcher, said during her testimony at yesterday’s Senate hearing.
Experts and rattled senators testifeid to several of PIF’s links with growing human rights abuses under bin Salman’s leadership. Some specific examples that came up:
👩🏻⚖️ High-level Saudi officials weren’t held accountable for the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, despite evidence of their involvement. Saudi Arabia’s PIF owns a company whose jets were used to transport the killers of Khashoggi from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, where the Washington Post journalist was murdered in 2018. According to the CIA, bin Salman approved the operation,.
🇾🇪 As defense minister between 2015 and 2022, bin Salman “carried out scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes on civilians and civilian objects in Yemen, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, and mosques,” Shea said
💼 Saudi government documents submitted to a Canadian court as part of an ongoing legal claim revealed that, in 2017, one of bin Salman’s advisers ordered Yasir al-Rumayyan, the supervisor of PIF, to transfer 20 companies captured as part of an “anti-corruption campaign” directly into the fund’s ownership. “There is a risk that these companies were ‘transferred’ from their owners without due process,” Shea said.
🪖 In August, Saudi border guards were accused of the mass killing of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers.
❌ The Republican senator Ron Johnson, who has repeatedly called upon the Department of Justice and the FBI to share “complete, unredacted records of Saudi Arabia’s role,” centered his testimony on the kingdom’s association with the 9/11 attacks.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan is set to become the chairman of the new global golf tour after the PGA-LIV merger, while Jay Monahan, the PGA Tour commissioner, will serve as CEO. Unlike Monahan, a golf player in his college days and a sports executive throughout his career, Al-Rumayyan’s promotion to the post has no connection to any affinity wiht golf. It is rooted in another factor: his close association with bin Salman.
Al-Rumayyan, the governor of PIF, is referred to a “close confidante” of bin Salman, pulling the strings behind the scenes. Before the PGA-LIV deal, he was made chairman of the football club Newcastle United and the of state-owned petroleum company Aramco.
As the head of PIF, Al-Rumayyan was invited to testify at a US Senate hearing on July 11, but he declined.
$1 billion: How much PIF plans to contribute to the new golf entity formed after the PGA-LIV merger
$3.5 billion: The capital that Uber raised from PIF in 2016, giving Al-Rumayyan a seat on its board in the process. Since 2016, when bin Salman announced his Vision 2030 economic plan aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy and creating a “global investment powerhouse,” PIF has invested in several US corporations including Meta, JP Morgan, Starbucks, Microsoft, Electronic Arts, and more.
80%: PIF’s stake as the majority owner of the Newcastle United football club in the UK
39: PIF’s score out of 100, as per the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), in assessing the sovereign wealth fund on transparency, governance, and accountability. PIF was ranked 56 out of 64 funds analyzed.
$60 million: The price of the home bin Salman bought for Al-Rumayyan near the Saudi presidential palace
$700 billion: PIF’s assets under management
$2 trillion: The volume of assets that bin Salman claims PIF will control by 2030