Who was in WWE's domestic meeting with the Saudi government?

The U.S. government doesn't know, even if it sure seems like they should.

Vince McMahon, Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheik of Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority, and Paul “Triple H” Levesque in 2018. (Photo: @Turki_alalshikh)

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Back in October, a friend tipped me off to the fact that foreign agent registration paperwork for Churchill Ripley, a firm representing the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, had appeared online. This was of particular significance to me because the document in question, covering the first half of 2018, included a meeting with World Wrestling Entertainment from March 29 of that year.

This meeting was, in all fairness, weeks after the WWF/KSA deal was announced, so it was not necessarily the most crucial one in the relationship. It being the only WWE meeting included, however, does suggest that it was likely the only one that WWE had with the Saudi delegation on American soil during that period. (If WWE met with anyone else on U.S. soil, it’s not recorded in filings on the FARA.gov website that archives foreign agent registration paperwork.) If we’re assuming honesty on the part of Anna Lewis, who filled out the form for Churchill Ripley, then the WWE meeting was the only one that wasn’t a general “getting to know you” exercise. While the others are described in generic terms like “the development of [sport/[property] in Saudi Arabia,” the WWE meeting was a “discussion of the Greatest Royal Rumble event in Saudi Arabia.”

Partial screenshot of the FARA filing with the visible portion of the WWE line highlighted. (Image: FARA.gov)

Before the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a lot of people and companies in the sports world were willing to take meetings with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from Kobe Bryant and his investment team to Madison Square Garden to Major League Baseball and numerous others in between. But only WWE had gotten close to as far as having an event to plan for a month later. Whatever the General Sports Authority was selling, it would appear that WWE was by far the most gung-ho buyer.

So, who attended this meeting? That’s where it gets weird.

According to the FARA filing, the Saudi contingent consisted of Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud, Joseph Otayek (appears to be a Saudi businessman), and Churchill Ripley’s Anna Lewis. (I should note that, per a press release, Churchill Ripley is her firm and her full name is Anna Churchill Ripley Lewis.) The Raine Group, an investment firm, was also involved somehow, while the WWE side featured Vince McMahon and George Barrios. Well, sort of: The information is in what looks like a printed spreadsheet, and the list of “external parties” in the meeting was clearly cut off in the printing process. (It’s less clear if the same happened to the list of parties in the Saudi contingent.)

The key portion of the FOIA response letter to my request asking for the original Churchill Ripley spreadsheet.

Lacking anything else to do, I sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Justice National Security Division, asking for the original spreadsheet file used to generate the exhibit available on FARA.gov. After months of waiting, I finally got a response back in the form of a letter saying that the printout on the website is their original, so they don’t have the original, complete spreadsheet. That sounds kind of sloppy on their part, but it’s not like there’s anything else I can ask of them at that point. I don’t even necessarily think that Lewis was trying to hide anything. But the fact that a foreign agent registration doesn’t have to be formatted in a way that makes sure that the information is complete feels like a massive problem, albeit one that would be easy to solve.

As of this writing, WWE has not responded to an email requesting the names of everyone who was in the meeting in question.

Enjoy? Want to support this work and get other exclusive content? Then please subscribe for just $5/month or $50/year. Even if you’re not able to pay right now, please at least consider signing up for the free version, which will deliver all of the free posts directly to your email inbox, as well free preview excerpts of the paid subscriber-exclusive articles.