Kushner conundrum: Mixing business and politics

Jared Kushner supported the blockade of Qatar shortly after Qatari officials declined to invest in his holdings.

    Kushner has friendships with both UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [James Lawler/Reuters]
    Kushner has friendships with both UAE ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [James Lawler/Reuters]

    Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Middle East envoy and senior adviser, comes from a powerful American family.

    Jared's father, Charles Kushner, built a real estate empire by investing in affordable housing in East Coast states. He founded Kushner Companies, a lender and real estate firm, in New York City in 1985. 

    Since its founding, Kushner Companies moved on to bigger investments, setting a record in 2006 when it purchased 41-story skyscraper 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $1.8bn, the highest price ever paid for a single office building in the United States.

    "This is a great acquisition for our company," Jared Kushner, then 25, said at the time. "We are upping our presence in Manhattan. It's a logical expansion for us."

    Trouble at 666

    Kushner signed the purchase deal with Tishman Speyer Properties (TSP). The price tag was more than three times higher than what TSP paid for the property six years earlier, partly because of inflated prices in the US real estate bubble that began to deflate in 2007.

    Kushner Companies touted 666 Fifth Avenue as its flagship property, but falling prices after the 2007 US real estate market crash - exacerbated by the 2008 global recession - made it a financial burden.

    The Kushner family business took out a $1.2bn mortgage and $525m loan to finance the purchase. Trepp LLC, a data and analytics company that follows bank lending, said the loan "is a prime example of the excesses of the 2007 real estate bubble".

    At the end of the 2016 fiscal year, 666 Fifth Avenue was at 70 percent occupancy and hadn't generated enough revenue to cover its debts for years, forcing the Kushners to use their own money to pay the bills, the New York Times reported.

    Qataris decline to invest

    In 2016, Charles Kushner tried to convince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, a prominent businessman who served as Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, to invest in the Manhattan property.

    In April 2017, a deal with Anbang Insurance Group - a Chinese company with close ties to the ruling Communist Party - to "reposition" the property as luxury condominiums fell through

    That same month, both Charles and Joshua Kushner, Jared's younger brother, met separately with Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi to discuss financing both 666 Fifth Avenue and Joshua's tech fund, Thrive Capital, the Intercept reported.

    The Qataris declined to put money into either venture.

    According to Charles Kushner, however, it was he who nixed the 666 Fifth Avenue deal. He told the Washington Post, "Kushner Companies had decided that it was not going to accept sovereign wealth fund investments. We informed the Qatar representatives of our decision and they agreed. Even if they were ready to wire the money, we would not have taken it." 

    Although White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has divested from Kushner Companies, he is still reported to have a significant stake.

    'Punish Qatar'

    The April 2017 meetings took place only weeks before the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt launched a total blockade of Qatar, alleging Doha's support of "terrorism" and its cosy relations with their rival, Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.

    The investment pitch's timing relative to the beginning of the June 2017 blockade has caused some US media to question whether Jared Kushner decided to "punish Qatar" for refusing deals with Kushner-owned companies.

    Kushner is reportedly close to the UAE's ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    The Intercept reported that bin Salman bragged about having Kushner "in his pocket" - a statement bin Salman has denied making. Kushner has also tapped al-Otaiba for information on the region.

    George Nader, a Lebanese American businessman and an adviser to the de facto leader of the UAE, Mohammed bin Zayed, has admitted meeting Trump associates before and after the president assumed office in January 2017.

    Nader met Kushner, Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon, and bin Zayed at Trump Tower in December 2016.

    A month later, Nader and bin Zayed facilitated a meeting in Seychelles between Blackwater founder and informal Trump campaign adviser Erik Prince, and Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's sovereign investment fund - in which the UAE is heavily invested.

    While Kushner has testified to Congress about possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign before the election - allegations he has denied - he has yet to comment on the influence the UAE potentially exercised over the US administration.

    Other articles in this series

    Mueller's Web: The UAE-Trump Connectionan Al Jazeera interactive displaying connections between major players related to Trump and the UAE.  

    Who is George Nader, convicted paedophile? 

    Stephen Bannon, banished from the Trump team, takes on UAE talking points

    Kirill Dmitriev's ties to Putin and the UAE

    Elliott Broidy: A history of bribery and pro-Israel advocacy

    Erik Prince and the US Foreign Meddling investigation

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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