The Justice Department and European antitrust enforcers will review the surprise merger between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf amid complaints by 9/11 families that the Saudis are “sportswashing” their links to terrorism.
The rival golf leagues are joining forces with the PGA European Tour, known as the DP World Tour, in a new entity involving three of the biggest golf tours in the world. The Justice Department will review the deal instead of the Federal Trade Commission, which often handles sports leagues, Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
Justice officials, who declined a request for comment from The Washington Times on Wednesday, have already interviewed several golfers who had been suspended by the PGA for joining LIV Golf. That antitrust case began after LIV Golf sued the PGA Tour for having a monopoly, and the PGA countersued — litigation being dropped as a result of the merger.
Legal analysts say the deal invites more government scrutiny in the U.S. and abroad by essentially creating an even larger monopoly.
The group 9/11 Families United, citing the golf deal, is urging the Justice Department to investigate whether some paid Saudi agents have failed to register in the U.S. under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
“The kingdom spares no dollar to engage all of its paid agents. Most recently, we have watched Saudi Arabia spend upward of $1 billion in a failed effort to sportswash its horrific human rights record through its support of professional golf,” wrote the group’s chairwoman, Terry Strada, whose husband, Tom, died in the World Trade Center’s North Tower in 2001. “Through LIV, the Saudi government is spending millions of dollars on U.S.-based consultants with deep ties to key political figures and other prominent figures in Washington, D.C.”
LIV Golf is backed by the Saudi Arabia Public Investment Fund, which is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The group said in a statement that 9/11 families are “shocked and deeply offended by the newly announced merger between the PGA Tour and the LIV Golf league that is bankrolled by billions of sportswashing money from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi operatives played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now it is bankrolling all of professional golf.
“PGA Commissioner Jay Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA’s unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia’s reputation,” the group said. “But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation so that Americans and the world will forget how the kingdom spent their billions of dollars before 9/11 to fund terrorism, spread their vitriolic hatred of Americans, and finance al Qaeda and the murder of our loved ones. Make no mistake – we will never forget.”
The statement said PGA Tour leaders “should be ashamed of their hypocrisy and greed.”
“Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window dressing in their quest for money — it was never to honor the great game of golf,” the families said.
The deal is raising some concerns in Congress.
“Saudi sportswashing is still reprehensible. This merger seems to betray victims of human rights abuses, 9/11 families & others,” tweeted Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
One person who’s cheering the golf deal is former President Donald Trump, who predicted the merger a year ago and hosted an LIV Golf event last month at his Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.
“GREAT NEWS FROM LIV GOLF,” Mr. Trump posted on his Truth Social platform. “A BIG, BEAUTIFUL AND GLAMOROUS DEAL FOR THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF GOLF. CONGRATS TO ALL!!!”
Saudi officials have long denied any government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The first two who arrived in the U.S. in January 2000 sought help from a Saudi national whom the FBI suspected of spying for the kingdom.
The 9/11 families say a heavily redacted 2016 FBI report, partly declassified by the Biden administration, implicates “numerous Saudi government officials in a coordinated effort to mobilize an essential support network for the first arriving 9/11 hijackers.”
The PGA Tour and LIV will be chaired by Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund. Mr. Monahan, who had called LIV Golf “a foreign monarchy that is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to buy the game,” will be CEO of the new entity.
Mr. Monahan had what was described as a heated meeting Tuesday with some members of the PGA Tour, whom he previously tried to shame into not joining LIV Golf.
“I think you’d have to be living under a rock not to know there are significant implications,” Mr. Monahan said last summer. “I would ask any player who has left or any player who would consider leaving, ‘Have you ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA tour?’”