Saudi Arabia challenges US magistrate ruling on LIV golf subpoenas

Saudi Arabia challenges US magistrate ruling on LIV golf subpoenas
The battle for the future of global golf between the PGA and LIV rages on.
2 min read
24 February, 2023
The Saudi golf tour has divided fans - and players - around the world [Getty images}

Saudi Arabia is disputing a federal magistrate’s ruling that its sovereign wealth fund and the fund’s governor be required to provide documents and testimony in LIV Golf’s antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour.

Attorneys for the kingdom filed a letter on Thursday challenging the reasons a magistrate judge cited for allowing subpoenas of the Public Investment Fund and its governor, Yasir al-Rumayyan.

The letter was sent to U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, who is overseeing the case in the Northern District of California.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen in a Feb. 16 decision said the PIF and al-Rumayyan are not protected by the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act because of a commercial activity exception.

The dispute centers around LIV’s argument that the PIF and al-Rumayyan provided broad oversight of the rival league. The PGA Tour says documents obtained during discovery indicate they were actively involved in signing players to LIV Golf.

According to court documents, the PIF owns 93% of LIV Golf, which in the last year has paid signing fees reported to be upward of $100 million to players, including Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.

The letter also says van Keulen suggested the PIF would have waived its immunity if it authorized LIV Golf to sue the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour banned players who joined LIV Golf from competing in its events, and nine players — including Mickelson and DeChambeau — filed an antitrust lawsuit on Aug. 3. LIV Golf soon joined as a plaintiff, and only three players — DeChambeau, Peter Uihlein and Matt Jones — remain as plaintiffs.

“Her reasoning has broad implications for Saudi Arabia beyond the instant case,” said the letter, filed by the Washington law firm of Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick.

The letter said while van Keulen’s ruling held that al-Rumayyan — a minister in Saudi Arabia’s government — met the requirements for common-law foreign official immunity, that law has a commercial-activity exception to immunity.

“Recognition of such an exception to common-law foreign official immunity likewise has wide-ranging implications for Saudi Arabia,” the letter said.

The PIF and al-Rumayyan contend that enforcing subpoenas in the U.S. would force them to violate Saudi law against disclosure of confidential information.

The letter said Saudi Arabia planned to file a friend-of-court brief that would include interpretations of the commercial activity exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act and enforcement of Saudi Arabia law.

Freeman, meanwhile, ruled the PGA Tour could add the PIF and al-Rumayyan as defendants in its countersuit.