Saudi Arabia has reportedly threatened to imprison bankers and consultants it works with if they cooperate with the US Senate's probe into the proposed merger of the PGA Tour and LIV Golf.
As negotiations between the Tour and LIV's financiers, Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, continue, the US senate committee is continuing to carry out its investigation into the merger of golf's two previously warring factions.
However, as the committee carries out its probe, bankers and consultants who advise PIF have testified that they face 'criminal and financial penalties' if they cooperate.
According to a report by Bloomberg News, the PIF sued its advisers in a Saudi court last November preventing them from sharing information with the US Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs.
In Washington this week, banker Michael Klein and representatives of consulting firms McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Teneo Strategy faced lawmakers and pled their case for not cooperating.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund - LIV Gold's backers
BCG's Rich Lesser testified that the bankers risk criminal and financial penalties for the firm
'The PIF has been explicit that the disclosure of information relating to BCG's work for PIF is a violation of Saudi law, which "imposes criminal penalties for disclosing or disseminating such information including imprisonment for a maximum of 20 years,''' BCG's Rich Lesser said in prepared testimony. 'We risk criminal and financial penalties for the firm and for individuals working or living in Saudi Arabia.'
That includes 20-year prison sentences for executives and staff working in Saudi Arabia, Klein said.
'This represents aberrant behavior for a client, and, quite frankly, for the PIF, who has historically been a client that has operated with best practices of governance with us,' Klein said at a hearing.
The executives added that they are fighting the PIF's lawsuit, Bloomberg reported. They claimed they are attempting to reduce the number of redactions in their documents submitted to the Senate panel. Most of BCG's 91-page document submission, for example, was calendar invitations with every attendee's name redacted.
While the PGA Tour has taken on a news investment partner made up of US-based sports ownership groups, called Strategic Sports Group, it is said to still be in negotiations with the PIF.
The consulting groups' hesitance to work with the panel upset Sen. Richard Blumenthal
It remains to be seen if the PGA merging with its only rival will be allowed under federal antitrust law.
The consulting groups' hesitance to work with the panel upset Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
'It's simply staggering to me that American companies are not only willing to accept this claim, allowing the Saudi government to determine what is permitted to provide this subcommittee -- but also that they would use it to justify their refusal to comply with a duly issued congressional subpoena,' Blumenthal said.
In a statement to Bloomberg, the PIF said it was making 'significant efforts to facilitate the production of requested information from our advisers consistent with the laws of Saudi Arabia, which should be recognized like those of any other country.'
A congressional committee led by Sen. Blumenthal last week sent a letter to Al-Rumayyan asking that he cooperate in allowing the committee to subpoena four US consulting firms working for PIF.
The US lawmakers have been vocal in their opposition to LIV Golf and the PGA Tour opened considerations to US investors and insisted that PIF would only be a minority investor in an attempt to ease the political resistance.
Last week, the PGA Tour closed on an investment of up to $3billion with Strategic Sports Group, a consortium led by Fenway Sports Group - the owners of Premier League club Liverpool and MLB franchise Boston Red Sox.
The PGA Tour confirmed a $3billion investment deal with consortium Strategic Sports Group
Strategic Sports Group is led by Liverpool's owner Fenway Sports Group's John W Henry (left)
Negotiations between the PGA Tour and Public Investment Fund are ongoing after the initial December 31 deadline was missed and LIV Golf's financiers were not included as part of the transaction with SSG.
But the Tour's memo confirmed that a future co-investment from the Saudi Arabian fund was still on the table, subject to regulatory approval.
The tour said it was making progress in its negotiations with the Saudi national wealth fund on future investments and an ultimate agreement. Under the original framework agreement, Al-Rumayyan, the PIF governor, was to be chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises. It was not clear how the partnership with SSG affects that.
The tour said SSG has agreed to any investment by PIF, subject to the necessary review and approval.
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