When the former US President indulges in his day job, which is golf, his many employees on the green are said to call him “Pele,” after the soccer legend, because “no one kicked the golf ball into a better position as often” as Trump, provided that he didn’t let the employees do it right away. This is just one of the many anecdotes about the US President’s tricks. Another anecdote is that fellows of the right-wing populist have dubbed him “Commander in Cheat,” a pun on the chief cheater who counted supreme command of the US armed forces among his sideline duties: only Woodrow Wilson left the White House more often to go play golf.
Now let’s leave Donald’s grassy areas and come to the “Gulf” business model. Trump also seems to have a hand in this: he recently described the merger of two golf leagues as a “big, beautiful and glamorous deal for the golf world”. It’s about the “PGA Tour” and the competitor from “LIV Golf”. It should be added that the two groups fought each other bitterly for years.
To celebrate riddles properly, it should also be mentioned that LIV Golf is also controlled by the Gulf: The league is owned by the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund and had stolen the best players from the PGA with incredibly high salaries. The PGA, in turn, banned its players from participating in LIV tournaments, saying that the Saudi royal family’s entry into golf was trying to whitewash itself and to distract from its involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 9, 2001 and its countless other human rights violations.
The big showdown came in the spring of this year before a US court, where the Saudi Golf Tour newcomer LIV sued the PGA Tour. The judge noted that Saudi officials and the Saudi government would not be protected from US courts in the new golf league, as is normally the case with sovereign nations. While Saudi Arabia is fighting the decision and insisting US courts have no jurisdiction over its senior officials, the ruling means PGA Tour lawyers can question top officials about trade secrets the Saudis have been keeping hidden. Yasir al Rumayyan, who was put in charge of managing the Saudi Arabian oil government’s $600 billion assets under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is “down the drain” on managing the Gulf Tour, the judge noted.
The case is relevant beyond the world of golf. Saudi Arabia has been assertive on US corporate investment and political relations and could now face court calls for more transparency and accountability. Particularly thorny is the claim by Saudi officials that US courts have little or no say in their actions. Last year, the kingdom, with legal support from the Biden government, successfully argued that US courts had no jurisdiction to indict the prince in a lawsuit over the 2018 killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. US intelligence officials had concluded that aides dispatched by the prince and other Saudi officials had killed Khashoggi. The assassination has opened an enduring rift between the Biden administration and Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
Long standing international law generally protects the leaders and government of one country from being dragged before the courts of another country. Congress in 1976 designated commercial activity as an exception to this sovereign immunity.
Donald Trump, in turn, also got involved in the dispute. After all, he owns more than 18 golf courts worldwide, on which tournaments are also held. In the past he had fallen out with the PGA Tour, which had increasingly avoided his facilities after his election as president, especially after his attempted coup on January 6, 2021. He was therefore flattered by the charm offensive of the Gulf sheikhs, which had long been sought his contact. They liked the fact that the ex-president enjoys to be lured into golden palaces, as a mediocre entrepreneur or as a populist head of state: he dedicated his first trip abroad as president to Riyadh, where he was housed in a palace and celebrated like a king.
As president, Trump showed a great deal of understanding for Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, which is remarkable even for a president who showed great admiration for dictators. When the Riyadh regime murdered and dismembered Saudi-American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Trump downplayed the incident. He later boasted to a journalist that he saved bin Salman from sanctions by the US Congress: “I saved his ass.”
Even after his term in office, Trump enjoys special treatment from the royal family. The Saudi sovereign wealth fund put $2 billion into an investment company owned by son-in-law Jared Kushner. In turn, the LIV golf league, owned by the same sovereign wealth fund, had tournaments held on the Trump courses, unlike the PGA Tour, three this year alone. The attention that comes with it is worth its weight in gold for Trump’s golf courses and the associated hotels, even if he dismisses it all as “peanuts,” small change, the amount of which he is silent about.
Trump’s dealings with the Saudis, meanwhile, raise suspicions of conflicts of interest, especially as he seeks re-election next year and is the favorite among the Republican nominees. Prosecutors are already interested in his deals with LIV Golf. They are investigating the secret files Trump had withheld at his Mar-a-Lago estate on behalf of the Justice Department in Washington. They demanded documents from the Trump Organization, the company empire, about the relationship with LIV Golf, as reported by the New York Times.
It is unclear what connection there is between the secret documents and the golf business. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the judicial officials are carrying out the investigation more broadly than expected. Only recently it became known that in addition to a jury panel in the capital Washington, a second panel in Florida is also dealing with the matter.
It is also unclear what role Trump played in the PGA Tour and LIV Tour now merging. He predicted the move last summer, poking fun at the golf pros loyal to the PGA and spurning the Saudi millions lured by the LIV Tour.
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