Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law 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 such as New Jersey and Maryland. He founded Kushner Companies, a lender and real estate firm in New York City, in 1985.
Since its founding, the company has moved on to bigger investments. Kushner Companies set a record in 2006 when it purchased the 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 contract 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 burst in 2007.
Kushner Companies touted 666 Fifth Avenue as its flagship property, but falling prices in the US after the 2007 real estate market crash – exacerbated by the 2008 global recession – caused a financial burden.
The Kushner family business took out a $1.2bn mortgage and a $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 fiscal year 2016, 666 Fifth Avenue was at 70 percent occupancy and hadn’t generated enough revenue to cover its debts for years, causing the Kushners to use their own money to pay the bills, the New York Times reported.
Qataris decline to invest
A deal with Anbang Insurance Group – a Chinese company with close ties to the ruling Communist Party – to “reposition” the property to luxury condominiums fell through in April 2017.
That same month, both Charles and Joshua Kushner, Jared’s younger brother, met Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi to discuss the financing of both 666 Fifth Avenue and Joshua’s tech fund, Thrive Capital, the Intercept reported.
In 2016, Charles Kushner tried to convince Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, a prominent businessman who has served as Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, to invest in the Manhattan property.
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 theWashington Post that “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 still reportedly has a significant stake.
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 apparently 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, also known as MBS.
The Intercept reported that MBS bragged about having Kushner, the Trump administration’s Middle East envoy, “in his pocket” – a statement MBS 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 (MBZ), 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 MBZ at Trump Tower in December 2016.
A month later, Nader and MBZ facilitated a meeting in the Seychelles between Blackwater founder and informal Trump campaign adviser Erik Prince, and Kirill Dmitriev, the 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 prior to the election – allegations which 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 Connection, an Al Jazeera interactive displaying connections between major players related to Trump and the UAE.