Saudi-backed LIV Golf is using PGA suit to get data on 9/11 families, court told
Published in Golf
Saudi Arabia’s LIV Golf is allegedly using its US court fight with rival PGA Tour Inc. to “build an intelligence file” on families of 9/11 victims who have been critical of the kingdom and its new professional golfer’s circuit.
LIV, backed by Saudi Arabia’s $676 billion sovereign wealth fund, last month sued PGA’s public-relations firm Clout Public Affairs LLC in federal court in Washington to enforce a subpoena for communications and other documents that could be used in LIV’s antitrust suit against PGA.
In a court filing late Tuesday, Clout accused LIV of improperly using the subpoena to gather information on another client, 9/11 Justice, which is involved in a separate suit against Saudi Arabia related to the 2001 terror attacks and other atrocities including the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“LIV has brazenly hired a firm in the United States to track and monitor the activities of these 9/11 victims and families, while simultaneously, through the underlying lawsuit, using antitrust discovery to now sift Clout’s communications with these families, even if they have nothing to do with LIV, golf, or golfers,” Clout said in the filing.
LIV’s lawyer, Keith Frost, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
PGA and LIV have clashed publicly since the Saudi upstart last year poached some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Phil Mickleson, luring them with huge paychecks and unconventional tournament structures. When PGA began suspending players who left for LIV, the Saudi tour sued, calling PGA an “entrenched monopolist” that was trying to choke off its supply of star golfers. PGA filed a countersuit alleging damage to its brand.
The 9/11 families and other LIV critics have accused Saudi Arabia of using splashy LIV tournaments to “sportswash” the kingdom’s well documented human-rights abuses.
LIV’s legal fight with Clout was the latest twist in its case against the established golf tour group. LIV argues that the PGA hired Clout to secretly run a “smear campaign” that would damage the Saudi-backed tour, including by arranging for families of 9/11 victims to protest at LIV events and appear at media events.
But Clout contends that LIV’s subpoena violates the First Amendment privilege between Clout and its client. Clout said the subpoena for its communications with PGA is also pointless because PGA is already handing over those documents as part of the evidence-exchange process in the antitrust case.
The case is LIV Golf v. Clout Public Affairs, 22-mc-00126, US District Court, District of Columbia (Washington, DC).
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