Budding real estate mogul has a history of chasing Chinese investment, if not always directly

As a real estate developer, Jared Kushner is used to chasing deals and tapping deep pockets, including many in China.

But then Kushner isn’t just a typical developer – after the son-in-law of US President-elect Donald Trump was named his senior policy advisor, Kushner’s wheeling and dealing, especially with Chinese investors, has courted fresh media scrutiny. His appointment as the unpaid special adviser to the incoming president has raised questions of nepotism and conflicts of interest.

A recent New York Times article detailing meetings between Anbang Insurance Group’s chairman Wu Xiaohui and Kushner along with his father, Charles, raised questions on just how Kushner’s deal-making may get in the way of policymaking in the Trump White House.

According to the article published on Sunday, the meeting between Wu and Kushner took place less than a week after Trump’s election at the Waldorf-Astoria, the storied luxury Midtown Manhattan hotel acquired by Anbang in 2014.

Like his father-in-law, Kushner is a scion of a real-estate mogul albeit just across the Hudson River from Manhattan in New Jersey. His marriage to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, in 2009 was described by local media as the match made in real-estate heaven. With his appointment on Tuesday, his 36th birthday, however, Kushner is expected to resign as CEO of Kushner Companies, his family’s real estate company.

Long before his meeting with Wu, Kushner had a history of courting Chinese investments, if not always directly. In March 2015, Kushner, his brother and a friend founded Cadre, which they touted as a technology-driven commercial real estate investment company. It raised US$18.3 million in start-up funds from angel investors including Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group (owner of the South China Morning Post), according to the New York Post.

But the New York Times reported that the backers of many of Kushner’s real-estate investments have not been identified.

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One of Kushner’s latest projects – a luxury residential tower next to the soaring Trump Plaza in Jersey City received almost a quarter of its financing, about US$50 million, mostly from unidentified Chinese investors, Bloomberg reported in March.

To raise funds to build the tower, branded as Trump Bay Street, Kushner’s firm a hired a private firm, US Immigration Fund, which taps funds from the EB-5 scheme that allows wealthy foreigners to obtain immigrant visas, or Green Cards, by investing at least US$500,000 in projects that create US jobs.

In 2015, more than 80 per cent of the 9,764 EB-5 visas issued by the State Department went to Chinese applicants. The fund was founded by developer Nicholas Mastroianni II, who in 2015 announced a partnership with a Trump golf course in Palm Beach, Florida.

The tower had its grand opening just a few days before the US presidential election.

Trump’s unexpected triumph seemed to do little to rein in Kushner’s deal-making drive. A few days later, he was rubbing elbows with Wu at La Chine, a Chinese restaurant inside the Waldorf that serves up dishes from his home province of Zhejiang, including Chilean sea bass in honey and soy glaze. Anbang, which has been on a buying spree to acquire insurers and hotels, was recently blocked on security grounds from buying the famous Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California, which overlooks a naval base where US Navy SEAL troops train.

The Times reported that Kushner and Wu were close to sealing a deal to jointly redevelop a Manhattan office building, whose lobby was designed by Isamu Noguchi, and Japanese American landscape architect once married to the Manchurian-born Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who appeared in film with the Chinese name Li Xianglan.

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