Democrats question China firm's 'links' with Kushner

The building owned by the family of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.
The building owned by the family of US President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York City.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Five Democratic lawmakers are raising ethics concerns about a Chinese conglomerate's potential investment in a Manhattan office building owned by the family of Mr Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a senior White House adviser.

The lawmakers asked the White House in a March 24 letter to explain whether Mr Kushner was involved in any talks about the possible partnership with China's Anbang Insurance Group. They also asked for additional details on his divestment from his family's company, Kushner Cos.

"This deal, if executed, would appear to present a clear conflict of interest," the lawmakers wrote to White House deputy counsel Stefan Passantino. Anbang has "close ties to the Chinese state", they added.

Bloomberg this month reported on a financing proposal that would make Anbang and Kushner Cos partners in the marquee office tower, located at 666 Fifth Avenue.

Some real estate experts considered the terms of the US$4 billion (S$5.6 billion) transaction unusually favourable to the Kushners. The property has struggled financially.

Anbang later denied that there was a planned deal, saying that "there is no investment". Mr Kushner has said he sold his stake in the building to family members to comply with federal ethics rules.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Tom Carper, Gary Peters and Sherrod Brown, along with Representative Elijah Cummings, signed the letter.

Meanwhile, Mr Alex Jones, a prominent conspiracy theorist and the host of a popular right-wing radio show, has apologised for helping to spread and promote the hoax known as Pizzagate.

The Pizzagate theory posited with no evidence that top Democratic officials were involved with a satanic child pornography ring centred on Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington.

Mr Jones made the apology to the owner of Comet Ping Pong, Mr James Alefantis, on video, reading from a carefully worded statement that emphasised how widely the theory had spread before he weighed in on it.

The hoax has had real-world consequences. The pizzeria, Mr Alefantis and his employees have been besieged by threats. Nearby businesses have also been affected.

The hoax has even spread to several other pizzerias around the US.

BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Democrats question China firm's 'links' with Kushner'. Print Edition | Subscribe