Kush­n­ers court cash at event in Bei­jing

Real estate pre­sen­ta­tion urges Chi­nese to in­vest in U.S. and se­cure visas

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY EMILY RAUHALA AND WIL­LIAM WAN

bei­jing — The Kush­ner fam­ily came to the United States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you in­vest in Kush­ner prop­er­ties, so can you.

That was the mes­sage de­liv­ered Satur­day by White House se­nior ad­viser Jared Kush­ner’s sis­ter Ni­cole Kush­ner Meyer to a ball­room full of wealthy Chi­nese in­vestors in Bei­jing.

Over sev­eral hours of slide shows and pre­sen­ta­tions, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Kush­ner fam­ily busi­ness urged Chi­nese cit­i­zens gath­ered at a Ritz-Carl­ton ho­tel to con­sider in­vest­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in a New Jersey luxury apart­ment com­plex that would help them se­cure what’s known as an in­vestor visa.

The po­ten­tial in­vestors were ad­vised to in­vest sooner rather than later in case visa rules change un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “In­vest early, and you will in­vest un­der the old rules,” one speaker said.

The tagline on a brochure for the event: “In­vest $500,000 and im­mi­grate to the United States.”

And the high­light of the af­ter­noon was Meyer, a prin­ci­pal for the com­pany, who was in­tro­duced in pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als as Jared’s sis­ter.

The event un­der­scores the ex­tent to which Kush­ner’s pri­vate busi­ness in­ter­ests have the po­ten­tial to col­lide with his pow­er­ful role as a top of­fi­cial in his fa­ther-in-law’s White House, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to China, where Kush­ner has be­come a cru­cial di­plo­matic chan­nel be­tween Bei­jing and the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.

While Kush­ner has re­ported di­vest­ing from el­e­ments of the fam­ily busi­ness, in­clud­ing the spe­cific project that his sis­ter pitched in Bei­jing, the ses­sion Satur­day demon­strated that the com­pany is per­ceived as en­joy­ing close ties to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ethics laws pro­hibit govern­ment of­fi­cials from prof­it­ing per­son­ally from their pub­lic-sec­tor work.

Watch­dogs and ethics ex­perts on Satur­day crit­i­cized the Bei­jing event as an at­tempt to cash in on Kush­ner’s new­found prox­im­ity to power.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly stupid and highly in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” said Richard Painter, the for­mer chief White House ethics lawyer in President Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, who has be­come a vo­cal critic of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. “They clearly im­ply that the Kush­n­ers are go­ing to make sure you get your visa . . . . They’re [Chi­nese ap­pli­cants] not go­ing to take a chance. Of course they’re go­ing to want to in­vest.”

Among the wealthy elites in China, fam­ily, busi­ness and pol­i­tics are all deeply in­ter­twined. Ev­ery branch of the Com­mu­nist Party, ev­ery prov­ince and city of­ten op­er­ate as a fief­dom for those in power, al­low­ing lead­ers spe­cial, lu­cra­tive ac­cess to pol­icy, land and govern­ment con­tracts. There is even a name for sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion sons and daugh­ters of wealthy busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and govern­ment of­fi­cials — such as Ivanka Trump and Jared Kush­ner — who have ac­cess to power through fam­ily ties. They are called “fuer­dai.”

The EB-5 im­mi­grant in­vestor visa pro­gram that Meyer dis­cussed Satur­day al­lows rich for­eign in­vestors who are will­ing to plunk down large in­vest­ments in U.S. projects that cre­ate jobs to ap­ply to im­mi­grate to the United States.

Bloomberg News re­ported in March 2016 that the pro­gram has been used to the ben­e­fit both the Trump and Kush­ner fam­ily busi­nesses. Be­fore join­ing the White House, as chief ex­ec­u­tive of his fam­ily’s real estate com­pany, Jared Kush­ner raised $50 mil­lion from Chi­nese EB-5 ap­pli­cants for a Trump-branded apart­ment build­ing in Jersey City, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Blake Roberts, an at­tor­ney at the WilmerHale law firm who serves as Kush­ner’s per­sonal coun­sel, said: “Mr. Kush­ner di­vested his in­ter­ests in the One Jour­nal Square project by sell­ing them to a fam­ily trust that he is not a ben­e­fi­ciary of, a mech­a­nism sug­gested by the Of­fice of Govern­ment Ethics. As pre­vi­ously stated, he will re­cuse from par­tic­u­lar mat­ters con­cern­ing the EB-5 visa pro­gram.”

The EB-5 pro­gram has been crit­i­cized by mem­bers of Congress from both par­ties who have said the pro­gram in essence sells visas to the wealth­i­est for­eign­ers.

The pro­gram has been ex­tremely pop­u­lar among rich Chi­nese, who call it the “golden visa” and are ea­ger to get their fam­i­lies — and their wealth — out of the coun­try. The fact that some use it to move their money out il­le­gally, how­ever, has made the pro­gram un­pop­u­lar with the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties.

The pro­gram was launched with the goal of se­cur­ing in­vest­ment and cre­at­ing jobs. But in­stead, in re­cent years, many real estate de­vel­op­ers have used the pro­gram as a source of cheap fi­nanc­ing by us­ing for­eign in­vestors, es­pe­cially from China, for flashy projects in Man­hat­tan and other city cen­ters.

A Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice re­port in 2015 found the EB-5 pro­gram car­ried a high risk of fraud, was rife with coun­ter­feit doc­u­men­ta­tion and had “no re­li­able method to ver­ify the source of the funds of pe­ti­tion­ers.”

Since Don­ald Trump be­came president, ru­mors have cir­cu­lated among the wealthy of the world about the fu­ture of the EB-5 pro­gram, given Trump’s re­peated vows to crack down on im­mi­gra­tion and the in­creased con­gres­sional scru­tiny of EB-5s. That has sent many high-rolling for­eign­ers flock­ing to ap­ply.

The pro­gram, how­ever, is es­pe­cially pop­u­lar in China, with es­ti­mates in re­cent years show­ing that more than 80 per­cent of EB-5 visas were is­sued to Chi­nese in­vestors.

Satur­day’s event in Bei­jing was hosted by the Chi­nese com­pany Qiaowai, which con­nects U.S. com­pa­nies with Chi­nese in­vestors. Qiaowai is work­ing with the Kush­ner com­pany to se­cure fund­ing for Kush­ner 1, the New Jersey project pre­sented to in­vestors, also known as One Jour­nal Square. Pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als tout the build­ings’ prox­im­ity to Man­hat­tan and note that the project will cre­ate more than 6,000 jobs.

“This project has sta­ble fund­ing, cre­ates suf­fi­cient jobs and guar­an­tees the safety of in­vestors’ money,” one de­scrip­tion reads.

Al­though there was no vis­i­ble ref­er­ence to Trump, the ma­te­ri­als noted the Kush­ner fam­ily’s “celebrity” sta­tus.

White House of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment. A spokesman for the Kush­ner com­pany also de­clined to com­ment.

Kush­ner’s per­sonal fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure form re­flects that he di­vested his in­ter­est in K One Jour­nal Square LLC. The form de­scribed the as­set as un­de­vel­oped real estate in Jersey City. Be­cause the as­set was al­ready di­vested, Kush­ner’s fil­ing does not re­flect its es­ti­mated value. But he did re­port be­tween $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion in in­come con­nected to the project.

At Satur­day’s event, at­tendee Wang Yun, a Chi­nese in­vestor, said the Kush­ner fam­ily’s ties to Trump were an ob­vi­ous part of the project’s ap­peal.

“Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s fam­ily, of course it is still af­fil­i­ated,” Wang said.

Wang rea­soned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the pres­i­dency goes well but could be dis­as­trous if it does not: “We heard that there are ru­mors that he is the most likely to be im­peached president in Amer­i­can his­tory. That’s why I doubt this project.”

Many of the peo­ple who at­tended the event de­clined to be in­ter­viewed, cit­ing pri­vacy con­cerns, or were blocked by or­ga­niz­ers from speak­ing to the news media.

Al­though the event was pub­licly ad­ver­tised in Bei­jing, the hosts were ex­cep­tion­ally anx­ious about the pres­ence of re­porters.

Jour­nal­ists were ini­tially seated at the back of the ball­room, but as the pre­sen­ta­tions got un­der­way, a pub­lic-re­la­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive asked The Washington Post to leave, say­ing the pres­ence of for­eign re­porters threat­ened the “sta­bil­ity” of the event.

At one point, or­ga­niz­ers grabbed a re­porter’s phone and back­pack to try to force that per­son to leave. Later, as in­vestors started leav­ing the ball­room, or­ga­niz­ers phys­i­cally sur­rounded at­ten­dees to pre­vent them from giv­ing in­ter­views.

Asked why re­porters were asked to leave, a PR per­son who de­clined to iden­tify her­self said sim­ply, “This is not the story we want.”

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

Jared Kush­ner, a top ad­viser to President Trump, lis­tens as the president, who is also his fa­ther-in-law, pre­pares to sign an ex­ec­u­tive or­der at the White House last week.

EMILY RAUHALA/THE WASHINGTON POST

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Kush­ner fam­ily busi­ness pitch a U.S. real estate project to Chi­nese in­vestors at a ho­tel in Bei­jing.

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