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Trump's son-in-law's deals with Chinese financial firm raise concerns

By Yoshita Singh
January 08, 2017 14:04 IST
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Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner’s business ties with a Chinese financial behemoth are raising concerns over potential conflict of interest as he prepares for a role in White House, advising the President-elect on foreign policy that could affect his company’s bottom line.

About eight days after his father-in-law was elected President of the United States in November last year, Kushner had met with Wu Xiaohui, the chairman Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion (Rs 19 lakh crore) and an ‘ownership structure shrouded in mystery’, according to an extensive report in the New York Times.

The meeting at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan ‘was a mutually auspicious moment’ and Wu and Kushner, husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka, were nearing agreement on a joint venture for redevelopment of prime New York real-estate property, 41-floor building at 666 Fifth Avenue, a ‘crown jewel’ of the Kushner family real-estate empire.

The report added that Anbang, which has close ties to the Chinese state, has seen its aggressive efforts to buy hotels in the US slowed amid concerns raised by Obama administration officials who review foreign investments for national security risk.

After Anbang acquired Waldorf, such were the security concerns that Barack Obama broke with presidential protocol and did not stay at the Waldorf when he visited New York for the opening of a session of the UN General Assembly in September 2015.

American officials cited security, counterintelligence and cyber-surveillance concerns for the same.

Following the meeting, Wu toasted Trump and declared his desire to meet the President elect, whose ascension, he was sure, would be good for global business.

'Since the election, intense scrutiny has been trained on Trump's company and the potential conflicts of interest he will face.

'But with Kushner laying the groundwork for his own White House role, the meeting at the Waldorf shines a light on his family’s multibillion-dollar business, Kushner Companies, and on the ethical thicket he would have to navigate while advising his father-in-law on policy that could affect his bottom line,' the NYT report added.

The Kushner family business, led by the young Kushner, is a major real estate investor across the New York area and beyond and has participated in roughly $7 billion (Rs 46,900 crore) in acquisitions in the last decade, many of them backed by opaque foreign money, as well as financial institutions Kushner's father-in-law will soon have a hand in regulating.

The Anbang talks began roughly six months ago ‘well before the President-elect’s victory’, Kushner’s spokeswoman Risa Heller said but just at the time Trump clinched the Republican nomination.

Kushner has hired a leading Washington law firm to advise him on how to comply with federal ethics laws in the event he joins the White House staff as an adviser to the President.

'As for conflicts of interest, Kushner would be required to make limited financial disclosures, which could give the public a clearer picture of his holdings.

'And, unlike Trump, who as President will be exempt from conflict-of-interest laws, he would have to recuse himself from decisions with a direct and predictable effect on his financial interests,' the NYT report said.

A WilmerHale partner Jamie Gorelick said that while plans were not final, Kushner was taking significant steps to extricate himself from the family business.

"Kushner is committed to complying with federal ethics laws, and we have been consulting with the Office of Government Ethics regarding the steps he would take," she said.

Kushner will resign as chief executive of Kushner Companies, and though the law does not require it, he would divest ‘substantial assets’, she added.

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Yoshita Singh in New York
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