Saudi Arabian involvement in American business endeavors, particularly in the world of sports, has drawn the eye of a congressional investigative subcommittee. After several months of investigation and inquiry without testimony from officials involved in Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, Congress is flexing muscle in search of answers.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations held its latest hearing Wednesday morning on the relationship between the PIF and the PGA Tour, among other sports entities. Prior to the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the chair of the subcommittee, announced that he would be issuing a subpoena to one of the PIF's U.S.-based subsidiaries seeking "documents related to PIF’s takeover of American golf and other investments throughout the United States."
“The Saudis' Public Investment Fund cannot have it both ways: if it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight,” Blumenthal said in a statement released prior to the hearing. “That oversight includes this subcommittee’s inquiry.”
The subcommittee had sought the testimony of PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan and LIV Golf CEO Greg Norman at a July hearing, but both declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts. PGA Tour officials Ron Price, CEO, and Jimmy Dunne, board member, appeared at the hearing to discuss the surprising June agreement between the Tour and the PIF.
"Over multiple communications spanning the next month and despite the subcommittee’s offers to accommodate his schedule, PIF’s counsel repeatedly declined to provide any availability for Governor Al-Rumayyan’s appearance," Blumenthal indicated in the subpoena memo.
In August, Blumenthal reiterated his request for Al-Rumayyan to testify but was again rebuffed, with Al-Rumayyan's representatives replying that he was an "inappropriate witness" because he is “a minister bound by the Kingdom’s laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information.”
"We’d be naive to believe that the PIF’s actions related to the PGA Tour are not part of the Kingdom’s much larger lobbying, public relations, and broader influence operation in the U.S.," Benjamin Freeman, the director of the Democratizing Foreign Policy Program at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, testified in his opening remarks before the committee Wednesday. "Last month at this Subcommittee’s hearing, the PGA Tour witnesses made clear that there is no business rationale that can explain the PIF’s extraordinary spending on the game of golf ... [Saudi officials] want to rebrand themselves. They want Americans to associate Saudi Arabia with golf rather than the brutal murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi."
Blumenthal's subpoena seeks "all records referring or relating to the Framework Agreement between the Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour," among other records, by Oct. 13.