US & Canada

What do Kushner talks with China's Anbang mean for Trump?

US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up as he and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner depart the White House in Washington, 15 March 2017 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Kushner's company is under the spotlight over a possible property deal with a Chinese firm

A company part-owned by Donald Trump's son-in-law and now senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, is reportedly negotiating a deal with a Chinese company to redevelop 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City.

The 41-floor ageing property, which occupies a full block that fronts Fifth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Street, was purchased by Kushner Companies in 2006 for $1.8bn (£1.5bn). At the time, it was the highest price paid for a single building in Manhattan.

But does Chinese interest in the building, just a few blocks south of Trump Tower, raise questions over a potential conflict of interest with someone so personally and professionally close to the US president? And would a possible sale to China's Anbang Insurance Group pose security risks?

Deal or no deal?

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that Anbang was planning a $4bn (£3.3bn) investment deal with the owners of 666 Fifth Avenue. The agreement, the news agency reported, would make Kushner Companies, owned by Jared Kushner and his father Charles, more than $400m (£327m).

The report says that some real estate experts consider the terms of such a transaction unusually favourable for the US company.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Kushner Companies is in "discussions" involving 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City

On Tuesday, however, Anbang said that reports circulating of its investment in the Fifth Avenue property were "not correct".

"There is no investment from Anbang for this deal," the company wrote in a statement.

Kushner Companies later confirmed that it is in "active discussions" over the building in Manhattan, but did not name Anbang specifically.

"Nothing has been finalised," company spokesman James Yolles told Reuters news agency.

What are the potential conflicts of interest?

After Mr Kushner was given a senior role inside the White House, his lawyer told the New York Times that he "would recuse from particular matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on his remaining financial interests".

As an owner of Kushner Companies, and with close ties to Mr Trump, investment deals under negotiation between his company and firms such as Anbang do raise questions.

Responding to these concerns, company spokesman Mr Yolles said that Mr Kushner sold his ownership stake in 666 Fifth Avenue to family members, meaning that any transaction would pose no conflict of interest with his role at the White House.

"Kushner Companies has taken significant steps to avoid potential conflicts and will continue to do so," Mr Yolles said in a statement.

What do we know about the Kushners?

Jared Kushner, 36, is married to Mr Trump's daughter, Ivanka. In 2006, at just 25, the softly-spoken millionaire bought the once-venerable New York Observer newspaper.

Although he shares with Mr Trump a complete lack of political experience, last year he exerted a powerful influence over the Trump campaign - including digital strategy and top-level hires - and carried that clout into the White House.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Kushner, who is married to Ivanka Trump, is a senior White House adviser

His father, Charles, founded Kushner Companies in 1985 and made his fortune as a New Jersey property mogul.

A controversial figure, Kushner senior received a prison sentence in 2005 for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness tampering.

At the time, he admitted setting up his own brother-in-law with a prostitute, secretly filming the liaison, and sending the tape to his sister in an effort to dissuade them from testifying against him.

The man who prosecuted Charles Kushner was the former US Attorney for New Jersey and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie.

Jared Kushner is reported to have been involved in counselling Mr Trump to choose Mike Pence as his running mate, over Mr Christie.

What do we know about Anbang?

China's Anbang Insurance Group was founded in 2004. It is now one of the country's corporate goliaths with an increasingly large international portfolio and interests ranging from banking to traditional Chinese medicine.

The firm first came to prominence in 2015 when it bought New York's landmark Waldorf Astoria hotel for $1.95bn (£1.35bn), then the biggest US real estate deal by a Chinese buyer.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Barack Obama refused to stay at the Waldorf Astoria after it was sold to Anbang in 2015

Following the acquisition, then President Barack Obama refused to stay at the Waldorf Astoria during a UN general assembly gathering, citing security concerns.

Anbang has been making an aggressive push into the US property market over the last few years but little is known about the company.

In April 2016, the firm unexpectedly abandoned a $14bn (£9.75bn) takeover offer for Starwood Hotels, ending a three-week bidding war with Marriott. According to reports at the time, there were questions over its financing sources.

The company now claims to have total assets of more than 1.9tn yuan ($300bn, £240bn).

What are Angbang's political connections?

Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui is considered one of the best politically-connected men in China, having married the grand-daughter of former leader, Deng Xiaopeng.

Image copyright Anbang Insurance Group
Image caption Anbang chairman Wu Xiaohui (left) is one of China's most politically-connected businessmen

Mr Wu, 49, is considered "reclusive" but in 2015 he appeared at a Harvard event in Beijing, where he spoke about his firm's investment strategy.

"We must win the first battle and every battle thereafter, as we are representing Chinese enterprises going global," he said.

Company records have also shown members of the board to include the son of a top military commander under former leader Mao Zedong and the son of China's former prime minister Zhu Rongji.

Are international deals a problem for Trump?

Mr Trump's overseas business interests invite questions of whether his foreign policy decisions are directed by US interests or by his own - or his family's - business interests.

A section of the US Constitution known as the Emoluments Clause restricts what US presidents can accept from foreign governments.

America's founding fathers included this to prevent US leaders from being beholden to foreign governments.

After Mr Trump was elected in early November he spoke over the phone with Argentine President Mauricio Macri. After that call, the Trump Organization issued a press release indicating that Trump Tower Buenos Aires - which had been waiting permit approval to be built - was a done deal.

In January, Donald Trump said he had formally given "complete and total" control of the Trump Organization's businesses to his two sons in a bid to avoid conflicts of interest.

But meetings with Indian business partners and current projects in places like the Philippines and Brazil are also raising questions about what the power of the presidency could do for the Trump brand's international negotiating power.

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