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PGA Tour’s controversial merger with Saudi-funded LIV Golf faces new threat | PGA Tour

PGA Tour’s controversial merger with Saudi-funded LIV Golf faces new threat | PGA Tour


Political opposition against the PGA Tour’s merger with the Saudi Arabia-funded LIV Tour is growing in the United States amid signs that powerful congressional interests in Washington are preparing to go to battle with the kingdom over the deal.

The proposed merger, which also involves the DP World Tour, is facing two separate Senate investigations, both launched this week, and a new threat by the chairman of the Senate finance committee, who said he would introduce legislation to revoke Saudi’s state-backed fund’s tax exempt status.

“The PGA Tour’s involvement with the PIF [Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund] raises significant questions about whether organisations that tie themselves to an authoritarian regime that has continually undermined the rule of law should continue to enjoy tax-exempt status in the United States,” Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the finance committee and one of the toughest critics of Saudi Arabia on Capitol Hill, wrote in a letter to the PGA’s management.

Senator Ron Wyden is demanding answers from the PGA Tour relating to its proposed merger with the Saudi-funded LIV Golf. Photograph: Shutterstock

In the four-page letter to PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, and chairman, Ed Herlihy, Wyden demanded to be provided detailed information about issues ranging from the players’ free speech rights, to the structure of the deal and compensation of managers, to whether the PIF’s potential ownership of US real estate posed a threat to national security.

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Washington has a long history of disrupting proposed mergers and acquisition that are politically unpalatable, and the PGA’s shock announcement that alongside the DP World Tour, formerly the European Tour, it had agreed to a merger with the Saudi’s LIV Tour – following a year of bitter litigation between the parties and which in effect would mean Saudi Arabia taking control of top-level golf – comes at a time when Saudi relations with Washington are at a low.

One long-time attorney who works on foreign transaction said the proposed merger comes as Joe Biden’s administration is growing increasingly frustrated by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s warm relations with China. The kingdom has few vocal allies in Washington.

There are several hurdles that experts said could stand in the way of a deal. The most obvious one would be a decision by the US Department of Justice to block the deal on antitrust grounds. The Biden administration could also – in theory, and under pressure from Congress – decide to launch a national security review of the proposed transaction.

While Congress has fewer concrete tools to block a deal, measures like Wyden’s proposed bill to strip Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund of tax exempt status could bite the kingdom.

The proposed merger will not only face opposition from senior Democrats like Wyden and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, but also Republicans who have expressed discomfort with the transaction, as well as a vocal and important lobby of family members of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, who said in a recent statement that they had been “betrayed” by the PGA’s decision to reverse course and agree to a deal.

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Khalid Aljabri, a Saudi expert and frequent commentator on US-Saudi relations, said the PGA-LIV merger exemplified Bin Salman’s blueprint of using infinite resources to “bully” his way to getting a seat at the table.

In announcing the merger last week, Monahan accepted “people are going to call me a hypocrite” given his previously hostile stance to LIV but he insisted the move was the correct one for golf, a view shared by Keith Pelley, the DP World Tour’s chief executive. “It’s an exciting time for global golf and the men’s professional game,” said Pelley. “I am just thrilled with the announcement and what it means going forward.”

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington

Published: 2023-06-15 20:25:16

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