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US rights group demands probe into Trump's business with Saudi-financed golf league

Saudi Public Investment Fund reported to own 93 percent of LIV Golf, according to rights group
Former US President Donald Trump at the LIV Golf Invitational at Trump National Golf Club on 28 July 2022 in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Former President Donald Trump at the LIV Golf Invitational at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on 28 July 2022 (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

A Washington-based human rights group is calling on the US government to investigate the business dealings between the Saudi Arabia-financed LIV Golf tour and former US President Donald Trump, who hosted a series of LIV golf tournaments at his resorts last year.

The demand for a probe into the business dealings comes after it was stated in a court hearing last week that the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund (PIF) owns 93 percent of LIV and pays all of the costs associated with its events.

While LIV had already disclosed that the PIF was its majority shareholder, the court hearing - in which LIV Golf and several professional golfers are suing the PGA Tour - was the first to mention the full extent of the investment fund's ownership.

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The claim was made during the hearing by the lead counsel to the PGA Tour, according to Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn).

Middle East Eye reached out to LIV Golf and the Trump Organization for comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

"The revelation that a fund controlled by Crown Prince MBS actually owns almost all of LIV Golf means that MBS has been paying Donald Trump unknown millions for the past two years, via their mutual corporate covers," Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn's executive director, said in a statement.

"The national security implications of payments from a grotesquely abusive foreign dictator to a president of the United States who provided extraordinary favors to him are as dangerous as they are shocking."

The PIF is at the centre of Saudi Arabia's efforts to remake the kingdom's economy and diversify away from petrodollars and is chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The two golf associations - LIV and PGA - have been engaged in a battle over the past year after a number of key golf stars decided to sign with LIV, including three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who said the Saudi golf league gave him and golfers willing to participate "leverage" against the PGA Tour.

Last August, several players and LIV Golf sued PGA on antitrust grounds. Then in September, PGA filed a countersuit against LIV, accusing it of interfering with its players' contracts.

In October, PGA moved to file a lawsuit against the PIF, the backers of the Saudi golf tour.

'National security emergency'

Dawn raised further concerns about whether Trump had engaged in business deals with Saudi Arabia's PIF while he was in office.

Congress has already been scrutinising the business dealings of former Trump officials, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner who received a $2.5bn investment in his firm, Affinity Partners, from the Saudi government.

The New York Times also reported in November 2022 that the Trump Organization had inked a deal with a Saudi-based real estate firm to license its name for a housing and golf complex in Oman. The real estate endeavour is reportedly worth $1.6bn.

Last year, the former president hosted LIV tournaments at his golf resorts in Florida and New Jersey, to the condemnation of rights groups as well as the families of 9/11 victims who protested outside of the tournament held in New Jersey.

"If Trump or his agents discussed any deals with LIV Golf or PIF while Trump was still in office, a criminal investigation would also be in order because federal law strictly prohibits this sort of business dealing by sitting federal officials with foreign governments," said Whitson.

"Given that Trump is also planning to run again for president, his business ties to Mohamed bin Salman are a national security emergency."

The issue of LIV Golf has previously been raised in Congress, when in June 2022 Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to the Biden administration with "deep concerns" over the golf association.

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