Publication date: 20/07/2023

In an interview recently unearthed by activists online, the Governor of Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), Yasir al-Rumayyan, revealed that majority decisions of the PIF Board can be overruled by the king if its Chair, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, does not agree with them. This admission casts serious doubt on previous claims that the PIF operates independently of the Saudi state, claims that were crucial in the English Premier League’s decision to approve the takeover of Newcastle United Football Club in 2021 by a consortium led by the PIF. 

In the course of the interview, published on 3 October 2022 by YouTube channel @thmanyahPodcasts, al-Rumayyan was asked about the PIF’s governance structures and decision-making processes, and how differences of opinion among Board members are resolved. He was specifically asked what happens should the Chair, Crown Prince Mohammed, lose the vote on a particular investment decision. Al-Rumayyan insisted that the proper processes are followed and majority decisions duly passed, but then made the startling admission that they can still be referred all the way up through other state bodies to the king, who can ultimately veto them. 

 

 

Al-Rumayyan said there was “one example” of a key decision, taken in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, when almost the entire Board voted against a proposal to invest funds in international markets rather than domestically; only the crown prince and al-Rumayyan voted in favour. What happened next, however, as al-Rumayyan explained, was that “we looked up the applicable rules [to see]: What is above the Board? The Economic Development Affairs Council [also chaired by the crown prince], and above that the King, the Prime Minister and the King. So we went all the way up to the King… it was passed on up to the King, and he issued another decision, that the opinion of the Chair and Governor should prevail. And that’s what happened.”

This admission is particularly significant in the light of statements such as that made by the Premier League on 7 October 2021, that the PIF’s takeover of Newcastle United FC was given the go-ahead because the Premier League had “received legally binding assurances that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will not control Newcastle United Football Club”. Al-Rumayyan’s comments are also consistent with those of lawyers for PIF-owned LIV-Golf, who, during a recent legal dispute between LIV-Golf and PGA Tours, explicitly described the PIF as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. 

ALQST’s Executive Director, Julia Legner, commented: “Al-Rumayyan’s admission has significant social, economic and political implications, and makes a mockery of any "assurances” given to the Premier League and others. It confirms what has long been obvious – that the PIF is in fact inseparable from the Saudi state.”

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