China's Anbang denies Kushner building deal

Anbang has denied claims of a $5.7 billion investment in the 41-storey Fifth Avenue building owned by the family of Mr Trump's senior adviser, Mr Kushner.
Anbang has denied claims of a $5.7 billion investment in the 41-storey Fifth Avenue building owned by the family of Mr Trump's senior adviser, Mr Kushner.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

NEW YORK • China's Anbang Insurance Group has said it is not investing in a flagship Manhattan office tower owned by the family of Mr Jared Kushner, United States President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser.

Anbang Insurance Group was named in a Bloomberg report on Monday as a possible investor in a US$4 billion (S$5.7 billion) deal to buy the 41-floor building located at 666, Fifth Avenue, according to a copy of the agreement.

"The information about Anbang investment at 666, Fifth Avenue, is not correct, there is no investment from Anbang for this deal," a spokesman for Anbang said in a statement on Tuesday.

The property was purchased by Kushner Cos in 2006 for US$1.8 billion, which at the time was the highest price paid for a single building in Manhattan. "Kushner Companies is in active discussions around 666 5th Avenue, and nothing has been finalised," a company spokesman said on Tuesday.

The ageing property occupies a full block that fronts Fifth Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets - prime real estate for retailers that is steps from Rockefeller Centre and St Patrick's Cathedral, and a few blocks south of Trump Tower.

If a deal had been signed, the potential agreement would create a financial marriage of two politically powerful families in the world's two biggest economies, but it would also present the possibility of glaring conflicts of interest.

The chairman of Anbang, Mr Wu Xiaohui, who wined and dined Mr Kushner at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in November, serving US$2,100-a-bottle Chateau Lafite Rothschild, married the granddaughter of Mr Deng Xiaoping, the leader who transformed China's economy. Mr Wu also counts the son of a top army marshal as a long-time business partner.

Should an agreement be reached, going into business with the family of the son-in-law of the US President would buy Mr Wu immense credibility within China because he is seen as having influence at the apex of power in the US, said Dr Minxin Pei, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California.

"He is purchasing political prestige, and that is a priceless asset for somebody like him," Prof Pei said.

The Kushner family, owners of the tower, would reap a financial windfall courtesy of a Chinese company, even as Mr Kushner helps oversee US foreign policy.

News of the negotiations surfaced as Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping were preparing for their first meeting.

Asked about a deal at a news conference on Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer referred questions back to Kushner Companies. "Jared went through extraordinary lengths" to comply with conflict-of-interest rules, he said.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2017, with the headline 'China's Anbang denies Kushner building deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe