At an event in Beijing on Saturday, Nicole Kushner, the sister of White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, made a hard sell to wealthy Chinese investors to pour funds into the family’s new real estate development in New Jersey, according to The Washington Post.
But Nicole Kushner offered the ballroom full of well-heeled Beijing residents more than just returns on investment: Invest with us, she told them, and you could get a highly desirable type of visa to the United States.
“Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States,” a brochure for the event reportedly declared.
Special kind of visa a ‘magnet for fraud’
The hours-long workshop, organized by Chinese company Qiaowai, was designed to garner investment in the family’s “Kushner 1” development in New Jersey, the Post reported.
It also promoted the investment as a golden opportunity for investors to gain an immigration visa to the United States under the controversial EB-5 visa program, which is meant to spur economic growth by encouraging foreign investment in projects that create jobs in the United States.
To qualify for an EB-5 visa, a person ordinarily has to invest a minimum of $1 million. However, Kushner 1 is apparently in a Targeted Employment Area, or TEA— an area of high unemployment that lowers the investment threshold for EB-5 visas to $500,000. Responsibility for designating TEAs lies with individual states, though they rely on federal guidelines.
The program, so coveted it’s been nicknamed the “golden visa,” has come under criticism for its lack of oversight. In 2015, the Government Accountability Office found that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service did not have sufficient controls in place to identify potential fraud in the EB-5 program or to asses its economic impact.
“USCIS does not have a strategy for collecting … some information on businesses supported by EB-5 program investments, that officials noted could help mitigate fraud, such as misrepresentation of new businesses,” the report concluded.
Legislators from both parties have been heavily critical of the program, which Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont called “a magnet for fraud” earlier this year.
“The EB-5 program I once championed seems like a distant memory,” Leahy told CNN.
Kushner Companies eager for cash
The Trump and Kushner families’ interlocking real estate empires have leaned heavily on investments from wealthy foreigners seeking EB-5 visas. Last year, Bloomberg reported on a video mean to promote the Trump Bay Street luxury apartments in New Jersey, built by Kushner Companies.
“Slated to be the sister building of Trump Plaza Residences, [Trump Bay Street] will stand with Trump Plaza to symbolize Jersey City’s twin towers,” one promotional pitch on a website for EB-5 investments said.
Two of the partners in the Trump Bay Street project, KABR Group and U.S. Immigration Fund, one of several private companies that operate regional centers for immigration investors in New Jersey, are also partners in the new Kushner 1 project, according to promotional materials photographed by The Washington Post.
In 2015, Nicholas Mastroianni, the Florida developer who runs U.S. Immigration Fund, also announced a partnership with the Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter, Florida, according to Bloomberg.
The administration softens on China; Kushners court Chinese investors
The workshop on Saturday raises fresh questions about Jared Kushner’s potential conflicts of interest.
Then-candidate Trump made bashing China for alleged currency manipulation a cornerstone of his stump speeches last year. But Kushner, aided by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, has taken a more conciliatory position as he heads up negotiations between the new administration and Beijing.
Ahead of a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month, Chinese negotiators reportedly focused on securing U.S. agreement to stay out of issues like human rights in Tibet, along with support for key Chinese foreign and development policies, in exchange for increased Chinese investment in the U.S. economy, according to The Washington Post.
That line seems to echo the views of some within the Trump administration, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telling State Department staff last week, “If we condition too heavily that others just adopt this value we have come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance on our national security interests, our economic interests.”
Asked about potential conflicts of interest on Saturday, Nicole Kushner refused to speak with reporters, according to a tweet from New York Times China correspondent Javier Hernández.
J. Kushner's sister Nicole in Beijing today to solicit $$$ for NJ project. But when we asked about conflicts of interest she wouldn't talk pic.twitter.com/hPm68VQdb1
— Javier C. Hernández (@HernandezJavier) May 6, 2017
Inside the ballroom, organizers reportedly blocked attendees from talking to the press and tried to physically remove one reporter from the event.
“This is not the story we want,” a spokesperson told the Post.