Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Jared Kushner looks to the Middle East to find sponsors for a new foundation

As a White House adviser to the Trump administration, Jared Kushner took a particular interest in the oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

He befriended the impudent young Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He helped establish ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and supported the rulers of the Emirates in enmity with Qatar. After the election defeat of his father-in-law, former President Donald Trump, Kushner continued to work actively in the region through the non-profit organization he founded.

Now, in a move that has puzzled diplomats, investors and ethics watchers, Kushner is trying to raise money in the Gulf countries for a new investment firm he founded. So far, his success has been mixed.

Qatar, whose leaders viewed Kouchner as an opponent in the administration, refused to invest in his firm, said a person familiar with the talk. The fixed assets of the sovereign wealth of the Emirates have done the same; The rulers of the Emirates saw Kouchner as an ally, but questioned his business track record, according to someone familiar with the discussions.

But the Saudis are more interested, according to four people briefed on the ongoing talks. The kingdom’s $ 450 billion state investment fund is in talks with Kushner about what could turn out to be a significant investment in his new firm, two of the people said.

In a short phone call, Kushner declined to discuss his new firm, Affinity Partners, and it is unclear what other investors he has spoken to so far in the US or abroad. According to someone familiar with the firm’s plans, Kushner hopes to raise a small sum of billions of dollars by early next year.

But his inquiries into the Middle East’s sovereign wealth funds raised questions about ethics – or at least optics – seeking large sums of money from officials he dealt with on behalf of the U.S. government as recently as January, especially given the possibility of Trump running for president in 2024.

Kushner’s business experience is largely limited by the time he spent at the family-owned real estate company. His most famous deal was the purchase of 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $ 1.8 billion in 2007, which became a financial albatross when the recession hit shortly thereafter. He also owned and published The New York Observer for ten years, until his father-in-law became president.

During the Trump administration, Kushner developed a particularly close relationship with the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He played a leading role in the White House in protecting the crown prince after US intelligence agencies concluded that he had directed the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi critic of the kingdom’s rulers for The Washington Post.

Kushner would not have been the first former Trump White House official to strike a lucrative business deal with Gulf administration allies shortly after leaving office. Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s Treasury Secretary, has received investment from the Saudis, Emirati and Qataris, according to people familiar with the matter.

Other former advisers and staff members also actively sought money from the Saudis. A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

“When former White House officials start to cash out their time serving our government by drawing close to the monarchs, it’s a little stomach-churning. It is illegal? No, said Nick Penniman, founder and CEO of Issue One, a good government organization in Washington. “Swampy and hypocritical? Yes.”

On a recent visit to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in the UAE, two people with knowledge of the trip said. During his time at the White House, he developed a close relationship with the Emirati Ambassador to Washington and worked closely with Emirati leaders on the first in a series of deals known as the Abraham Accords that opened diplomatic relations between Arab states and Israel.

But his collaboration with White House officials has sparked Emirates concerns about Kushner’s business reputation, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mnuchin, who ran the sales department at Goldman Sachs, funded Hollywood films and made a bankrupt regional bank profitable before joining the Trump administration. Emirates officials invested $ 2.5 billion in his new investment fund, Liberty Strategic Capital, this year, as did the State Investment Fund, two people familiar with the matter said. A firm spokesman said in a statement that Liberty “has a diverse investor base, including US insurance companies, family offices, sovereign wealth funds and other institutional investors,” without giving specific details.

Qatari officials initially feared they might face retaliation if they rejected Kushner’s invitation to invest and Trump or his allies returned to power, said one person familiar with the Qatar discussions.

Qatar rejected a request from the Kushner family to invest in their New York real estate business, and Qatari officials said they suspected he held a rejection against them when Trump was in power. (The views of the officials were reflected in the coverage of the Qatar-controlled news network Al-Jazeera.)

In 2017, Trump initially appears to have supported an attempt by the Saudis and the Emirates to sever Qatar’s diplomatic and trade ties with the rest of the region as part of a power struggle.

But now Qatar seems to be safer. It has long hosted and subsidized a major US airbase, and recently solidified its position as an ally, playing a key role in the US evacuation from Afghanistan this year.

In 2018, the real estate fund that Qatar has invested in also provided much-needed cash injections for the Kushners at 666 Fifth Avenue, who have struggled to pay off their debts amid persistent job vacancies.

Kushner’s current talks with Saudi Arabia, previously reported by the Project Brazen website, are ongoing, four people familiar with the matter said; but no deal was announced. His relationship with senior Saudi officials dates back to the beginning of the Trump administration in 2017.

In the first three months after Trump took office, Kushner devised protocol to organize a private meal with the president at the White House for Crown Prince Mohammed – in a format usually reserved for heads of state – although the prince had not yet been appointed a successor to the throne. his father, King Salman.

That spring, just months later, Kushner successfully convinced his father-in-law to make his first international summit trip in Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, where the president was photographed participating in a traditional sword dance. Around the same time, Kushner personally helped negotiate a 10-year deal for Saudi Arabia to buy more than $ 110 billion of American weapons. In June of the same year, Prince Muhammad was appointed Crown Prince.

Kushner and Crown Prince Mohammed communicated regularly and informally through text messages, referring to each other by name. In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s assassination, Kushner defended the crown prince in the White House, despite intelligence reports suggesting his involvement in the journalist’s execution plan.

A move widely interpreted as an attempt to protect the prince, Trump kept these reports under wraps throughout his term. This year they were uncovered by President Joe Biden, who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and took a much cooler approach to the kingdom than his predecessor.

While in the White House, Kushner devoted much of his energy to trying to get the Arab states involved in a grand deal to provide the Palestinians with economic benefits in exchange for Palestinian concessions to Israel. While this attempt was no more successful than previous efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, his negotiations with the Emirati and several neighbors eventually led to Abraham’s more limited accords to normalize relations with Israel.

Kushner has been behaving with restraint since he left the White House. Together with his wife Ivanka Trump and their children, he moved to Miami, outside the media attention of New York and Washington. In recent months, he founded Affinity there.

He told his colleagues that he did not want to return to politics. Seeking to build on the pacts he helped negotiate in government, Kushner founded the Abraham Peace Institute, a nonprofit group that will seek to expand trade ties between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Kushner also hopes his new firm Affinity will find cross-border investment opportunities in the Middle East, said a person familiar with the firm’s plans. According to this person, one of the key areas of interest is the establishment of investment relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The person said the company was still staffed, adding that attracting investors in the US and abroad was on the agenda.

Affinity recently hired Bret Perlman, founder of Silicon Valley investment firm Elevation Partners and longtime financial manager Josh Harris, founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, according to two people familiar with the move. Asad Naqvi, a former partner at London-based private equity firm Apis Partners, has also joined the investment team, one of the people added. (Reuters previously reported on both hires.) Kushner will be CEO.

Neither Pearlman nor Naqvi responded to requests for comment.

Nation World News Desk
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