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Jared Kushner's family's company to make $400M in new sweetheart deal with Chinese firm

The deal with the politically connected Chinese company raises a number of big red flags.

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A real estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser in the White House, is poised to sign a lucrative sweetheart deal with the politically connected Chinese insurance giant Anbang.

According to a Bloomberg report published Monday, Kushner Companies is set to receive $400 million in a deal in which Anbang will invest in the Kushner Companies’ flagship Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Ave. The deal values their office building at $2.85 billion, making it the highest valuation of a single Manhattan building ever.

Kushner sold his stake in the building to his family before entering the White House, and based on what we know so far, nothing illegal has happened.

But there are a number of red flags surrounding the transaction, and no way to rule out concerns that this represents just the latest instance of potential conflicts between the Trump administration’s obligation to the public and its own financial gain.

The terms of the deal are pretty sweet for Kushner Companies

There are many different components to the massive $4 billion transaction, but the terms of the deal are clearly a home run for Kushner Companies. The expensive Fifth Avenue property has struggled a great deal since the financial crisis, and Anbang’s investment will now provide the company with a cash payout and an equity stake in a new partnership.

There are two other elements of the deal that are particularly eye-catching. First, Bloomberg notes that the lenders financing the project, which Kushner Companies says is still being finalized, are not yet known.

The other striking fact is that the deal pays off almost all of a $250 million mortgage that Kushner Companies took out for the building. “According to the deal documents, the Kushners will settle the debt for just $50 million,” Bloomberg reports.

That’s one-fifth of the original value of the loan. Bloomberg reported that some real estate experts consider the deal “unusually favorable” for the Kushners.

A defender of this deal as ethical would say that both Kushner Companies and Anbang are private entities that do not represent their respective governments in any manner, so there’s nothing to see here. But that would require some willful blindness to the web of high-level government connections each party has in its respective country.

Anbang is tightly connected to the Chinese government

Anbang, a Beijing-based company with more than $250 billion in assets, is notoriously opaque. But we do know that Anbang, like many major businesses in China, is steeped in ties to the Chinese Communist Party.

Its owner, Wu Xiaohui, was able to secure a set of difficult-to-obtain licenses when he created the company in 2004, in an industry mainly populated by government-owned enterprises. He’s married to the granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, the former iconic leader of China who helped oversee major reforms to the country’s economy in the 1980s.

Anbang also has business ties to Wen Yunsong, the son of former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, as well as Chen Xiaolu, a former army officer whose father was a major figure in China’s Communist Revolution.

So how serious are these connections? Serious enough that after Anbang bought the Waldorf Astoria in New York, it caused Barack Obama to break with a presidential tradition dating back to Herbert Hoover in which the president stays at the Waldorf during the annual UN General Assembly. Fearing possible espionage, in 2015 he declined to stay at the premier luxury hotel and stayed at one just a block away instead.

Kushner isn’t too far from the money either

Kushner doesn’t have an ownership stake in 666 Fifth Ave. — he sold it to a family trust upon entering the White House as an adviser to the president. Kushner Companies has declined to say who exactly controls it, but his mother and siblings are beneficiaries of the trust. It’s unclear if Kushner plans to go back into real estate when he leaves Washington.

Lawrence Noble, the general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, says that given the reported facts, there isn’t any evidence that federal ethics rules have been broken.

“The core ethics rule of matters affecting personal financial interest would not seem to apply if [Kushner] has totally divested himself of his financial interests in the building,” he tells me. “And there are other rules involving using non-public information for someone’s financial benefit, but it doesn’t appear it would apply at this point in this situation.”

But Noble cautions that although formal laws on government ethics may not have been broken, the principles certainly may have.

“One of the classic things that you see in cases dealing with corruption is where people try to influence a government official by financially benefiting their family,” he says. “That often goes on because directly benefiting a government official may be too obvious and may be illegal.”

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for the watchdog group Public Citizen, notes that the deal could influence how Kushner thinking about dealing with China.

“The fact that the most prominent company involved [in the deal] is a Chinese one with its own murky links to the Chinese government raises questions on how this could impact everything from currency manipulation to espionage to the One China policy,” she says.

Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have both been working on US-China policy in the Trump administration. Beijing has taken measures to circumvent the typical diplomatic protocols of working through the State Department and has courted both of them directly. And one of the main policy issues in Kushner’s portfolio is trade, an issue of paramount importance to China in light of Trump’s threats to slap huge punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, an act that could rip a hole in China’s economy.

It’s impossible to say if the terms of the deal that Anbang has struck with Kushner’s family business are in any way politically motivated — if it’s a favor with an expectation that it will be reciprocated or a bid for some kind of access. Or maybe it’s none of those things. But that in and of itself is an issue.

“Even confidence in the best decisions is going to be questioned even by the appearance of potential conflicts of interests,” Noble says. “You end up debating things you shouldn’t have to debate.”

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