It was likely only a matter of time before LIV Golf’s antitrust case against the PGA Tour directly involved the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday, the Saudi government formally entered the fray.
In a letter to U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, attorneys for the kingdom—which is led by crown prince and prime minister Mohammed bin Salman—stated their client would like to file an amicus brief. The brief would concern a recent ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan van Keulen that allows the PGA Tour to subpoena the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (PIF) and its governor, Yasir Othman Al-Rumayyan.
The ramifications of van Keulen’s ruling go well beyond an antitrust and tortious interference case involving two golf leagues. They could expose PIF, the nation’s sovereign wealth fund which has investments in numerous U.S. companies, and Al-Rumayyan to obligations to give sworn testimony and share sensitive emails anytime a U.S. company in which PIF has equity is sued.
Deposition questions posed to Al-Rumayyan and other PIF officials, who the PGA Tour will name as co-defendants, could place them in awkward scenarios. For instance, they might have to answer, while under oath, whether PIF has lost business and investment opportunities due to controversies involving the Saudi government. It’s not clear if PIF officials could comply with Saudi law while complying with U.S. law to truthfully answer those questions under penalty of criminal perjury charges, since they might require them to provide information damaging to the government.
In her ruling, van Keulen rejected PIF’s arguments that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which generally makes foreign governments and leaders immune from litigation, applies. The judge stressed that because PIF, which funds LIV, and because Al-Rumayyan, who has promoted LIV, are engaged in commercial activity—in contrast to government work—FSIA does not bar a subpoena.
“Recognition of such an exception to common-law foreign official immunity,” the Saudi letter stated, “has wide-ranging implications for Saudi Arabia.”
LIV and the PGA Tour have a case conference hearing before Judge Freeman in California on Friday.