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Serbia approves hotel plans with Jared Kushner in Belgrade

The Serbian government has approved a contract with Jared Kushner to build a luxury hotel on the site of the former Defense Ministry in Belgrade, putting him directly in business with a European state like his father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, ambitions to return to the White House.

Mr. Kushner is pursuing the $500 million hotel project in partnership with Richard Grenell. A former Trump administration aide, Mr. Grenell first proposed that American investors try to redevelop the long-vacant and bombed site of the former Yugoslav Defense Ministry while Mr. Grenell was still a diplomat, acting as as special envoy to the Balkans. .

The deal, which sparked protests in Belgrade on Thursday, is with an affiliate of Mr. Kushner’s Affinity Partners, the $3 billion investment fund created three years ago and backed by Belgrade’s sovereign wealth fund. ‘Saudi Arabia.

“The Serbian government has chosen a reputable American company as a partner in this venture, which will invest in the revitalization of the former Federal Secretariat of National Defense complex,” a Serbian government official said in a statement released Wednesday.

The complex was bombed in 1999 by NATO forces, with support from the United States, during Serbia’s then-war with Kosovo. It is now considered a prime undeveloped real estate site in the middle of a changing city, and Mr. Trump himself considered building a hotel there in 2013.

For Mr. Kushner, who is also planning two luxury hotel projects in neighboring Albania, these Balkan deals are among the largest he has made since founding his investment company.

“Serbia’s economic progress over the past decade has been impressive,” Kushner said in a statement confirming approval of the deal. “This development will make Belgrade the premier international destination that it is becoming.

The plans in Serbia and Albania both involve direct concessions from those countries’ governments, meaning Mr. Kushner will potentially benefit financially from the actions of foreign governments while his father-in-law is in the White House, even whether these foreign officials might seek action from the United States, such as support for Serbia’s candidacy for the European Union.

Investments made by Mr. Kushner – with business partners in Israel, Dubai, Brazil, Germany and the United States, among others – are also backed by a fund with most of the money coming from the Saudi government , again raising questions about potential conflicts of interest if Mr. Trump returns to power, ethics lawyers said.

“This is a conflict of interest in the strictest sense: the president of the United States must promote the interests of the United States and not the financial interests of his family members,” said Adav Noti , executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. which tracks ethics issues in the federal government.

In total, 99 percent of the money investors put into Mr. Kushner’s company came from foreign sources, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in late March. Mr. Kushner says his overseas investments will not constitute a conflict of interest, as he has said he has no plans to return to the White House if Mr. Trump is re-elected.

Mr. Kushner and his partners plan to build a hotel, commercial space and more than 1,500 residential units. The approved plan includes a museum and memorial complex dedicated to those injured or killed during NATO bombings. The memorial will be owned and operated by the government and designed “in collaboration with Serbian architects,” Mr. Kushner’s company said in a statement.

Mr. Kushner is working with a longtime real estate partner on the Serbian project, Asher Abehsera, who will oversee the actual development. “Reconstruction does not only mean building buildings, but also building bridges between cultures, respecting the past and creating the foundations for a prosperous future,” Abehsera said in a statement.

The Serbian government, in its own statement, said it would retain ownership of the site and that the investor group, Affinity Global Development, would be given a set time frame to complete the project, failing which the land would be returned to the government control.

But approval of the contract – which includes a 99-year lease and a profit-sharing agreement from the development of the three-block area with the Serbian government – ​​drew criticism from opposition leaders in Serbia’s parliament , among others.

Protesters blocked traffic in front of the former Defense Department headquarters on Thursday and displayed signs questioning the decision, some of which read: “Stop giving Army HQ a gift to American offshore companies.” »

Some in Serbia oppose the plan because of the U.S. role in the bombing 25 years ago.

“Someone is trying to fix the mess they caused, and they are not the ones who should be doing anything in this place,” said Dragan Jonic, an MP who took part in the protest on Thursday. “We will use all legal means and civil disobedience to stop this.”

The plan has also attracted the attention of House Democrats, who have asked Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to investigate the proposed deals, although Republicans have made no approach in this direction.

“Jared Kushner is pursuing new foreign trade deals just as Donald Trump becomes the presumptive Republican presidential nominee,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, and California Democratic Rep. Robert wrote in March. Garcia, after the New York Times. has disclosed details of the planned projects.

Mr. Kushner, in an interview, said that as a private citizen he had the right to enter into international real estate and business transactions, even if they involve foreign governments.

But Mr. Kushner has played a behind-the-scenes role, advising a nonprofit organization created by Mr. Trump’s supporters that is already working on Mr. Trump’s possible transition to the White House.

“One of the reasons I think companies like us as investors is they know that if Affinity comes in, we become a kosher brand,” Mr. Kushner said in an interview in March. “Because, again, we’re a highly scrutinized company. We operate in a very professional manner.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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