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Richard Blumenthal
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) Photo credit: Senate Democrats / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) has put on notice the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund that, if he wants to do business in the US, he will have to play by a different set of rules.

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It is quite possible that Yasir al-Rumayyan, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), can do whatever he wants in his country, but a senior lawmaker put him on notice Wednesday that, if he wants to do business in the US, he will have to play by a different set of rules.

Ostensibly, the issue at hand is al-Rumayyan’s refusal to voluntarily testify before Congress about Saudi Arabia’s contentious deal with the PGA Tour. In reality, this spat is about much more than that — and it is easy to see how things could escalate quickly from here.

But let’s start at the beginning: In June, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs asked al-Rumayyan to appear before the panel in July to testify about PIF’s planned agreement with the PGA Tour, as well as the risks that the investments of foreign governments in US institutions pose.

The Saudi official initially declined, citing scheduling conflicts. However, when he was invited to pick a date for his testimony instead, al-Rumayyan’s story changed. In a recent letter, one of his lawyers said al-Rumayyan would be an “inappropriate witness” because he is a “minister bound by [Saudi Arabia’s] laws regarding the confidentiality of certain information.”

Furthermore, the lawyer also suggested that the subcommittee’s request for information raises “significant legal considerations,” such as the “consideration of and solicitude for the principles of sovereignty and international comity.”

That did not go over well with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), the chairman of the subcommittee. To put it mildly, he is not a fan of Saudi Arabia, which is why this is about much more than the PIF investment in a US-based golf tour.

Blumenthal said so in his opening remarks at the aforementioned July hearing.

“Today’s hearing is about much more than the game of golf. It is about how a brutal, repressive regime can buy influence [in] — indeed even take over — a cherished American institution simply to cleanse its public image,” Blumenthal said at the time. “It’s a regime that has killed journalists, jailed and tortured dissidents, fostered the war in Yemen, and supported other terrorist activities, including the 9/11 attack on our nation. It’s called sportswashing.”

Therefore, it is not surprising that the lawmaker is not looking kindly on al-Rumayyan’s refusal to testify or any flimsy excuses.

In a strongly worded letter, Blumenthal put the Saudi on notice that this nonsense wouldn’t fly.

“The suggestion that your role as a Saudi Foreign Minister shields you from testifying about PIF’s commercial activities is both deeply troubling and unsupported as a legal matter,” Blumenthal wrote.

The lawmaker pointed out that a court in California recently rejected al-Rumayyan’s “attempt to hide behind principles of sovereign immunity and international comity” when it came to providing testimony and information related to litigation concerning PIF’s commercial activities.

“In short, PIF cannot have it both ways: If it wants to engage with the United States commercially, it must be subject to United States law and oversight,” Blumenthal added. “That oversight includes this Subcommittee’s inquiry.”

The lawmaker gave al-Rumayyan just two days to respond whether he would appear at a hearing in September or to propose alternative dates when he would be available. The same deadline also applies to the production of documents.

In addition, Blumenthal wrote that, if the Saudi official refuses “to comply voluntarily,” his subcommittee would be “forced to consider other legal methods to compel PIF’s compliance.”

If you are unfamiliar with congressional protocol and processes, tight deadlines are usually a good indication that the person making a request is none too pleased.

In this case, the Saudis should probably comply because it is unlikely that Blumenthal will let this matter rest. Lawmakers from New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey — i.e., the states most affected by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center — are probably least inclined to cater to Saudi Arabia on any issue.

Therefore, it might be advisable for al-Rumayyan to appear before the subcommittee and produce the required documents.

Or, if he doesn’t want to do that, perhaps the Saudis can go back to their tried-and-tested method of luring Blumenthal to one of their embassies abroad so they can kill him, chop him into pieces, and hope this issue goes away.

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