Organizers barred journalists on Sunday from a publicly advertised event in Shanghai that offered Chinese investors the chance to get U.S. immigrant visas if they put money in a real estate project linked to the family of President Donald Trump's son-in-law.
The two-tower luxury apartment complex in New Jersey, One Journal Square, is being developed by KABR Group and the Kushner Companies, which until recently was headed by senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka.
The developers are seeking to raise $150 million, or 15.4 percent of funding for the project, from investors through the EB-5 visa program, according to marketing materials posted by the event's organizer, immigration agency Qiaowai.
The controversial EB-5 program allows wealthy foreigners to, in effect, buy U.S. immigration visas for themselves and families by investing at least $500,000 in certain development projects.
"Sorry, this is a private event," said a man stopping journalists from entering a function room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Shanghai, China.
Guests at the event said Kushner's sister, Nicole Kushner Meyer, spoke for about 10 minutes, including about her family's humble roots.
According to the New York Times, Meyer attended a similar event in Beijing on Saturday and told the audience of about 100 people the project "means a lot to me and my entire family".
Jared Kushner, whose White House portfolio includes relations with China, sold his stake in Kushner Companies to a family trust early this year.
"Mr. Kushner has no involvement in the operation of Kushner Companies and divested his interests in the One Journal Square project by selling them to a family trust that he, his wife, and his children are not beneficiaries of, a mechanism suggested by the Office of Government Ethics," his lawyer, Blake Roberts of WilmerHale law firm, said in a statement emailed to Reuters by the White House.
"As previously stated, he will recuse from particular matters concerning the EB-5 visa program."
A Kushner Companies spokeswoman declined to comment in a New York Times article about the Beijing event published on Saturday.
The Times story said Meyer did not respond when asked if she was concerned about possible conflicts of interest facing her brother. Journalists from the Times and Washington Post were removed from Saturday's Beijing event, the newspapers reported.
POPULAR WITH WEALTHY CHINESE
One potential investor, Sophie Xing, said a "very important" factor in her decision to attend Sunday's event was the fact the project was a Kushner Companies investment and that Trump's son-in-law's sister would be in Shanghai.
"Actually I really don't know how close they are but I felt that this was a pretty good project," she said.
In a promotional text message seen by Reuters, Qiaowai made note of Meyer's relationship to Trump and called her the event's "heavyweight honored guest".
Qiaowei representatives at the event declined to answer questions from journalists, and calls to its listed phone number went unanswered.
Qiaowei is also known as QWOS. Its promotional materials for the project, which it also calls Kushner1, advertise the prospect of putting money in under the federal EB-5 program.
The program is popular among wealthy Chinese looking to shift assets abroad or move overseas, but it has come under fire in the United States.
Some U.S. lawmakers have called for changing or abolishing the EB-5 program, but the scheme was recently renewed by Congress until Sept. 30.
Another person who attended Sunday's event, Liu Guoqi, was mindful of the potential rule change. Liu said he had been to previous pitches for EB-5 investments but had concerns about the risks.
"The whole thing may change later this year so we feel that there isn't much time left," he said.
In the United States, the EB-5 program has also sparked concerns about possible scams. Some immigrants have been burned by misrepresentations made about the program by promoters, both inside and outside the United States. Many have lost not only their money but their chance at winning U.S. citizenship.
Trump has vowed to clamp down on illegal immigration.
In addition to Beijing and Shanghai, the road show for One Journal Square was scheduled to visit the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Wuhan, according to Qiaowai's marketing materials online.
It calls the Kushner family a "famous real estate clan", and touts EB-5 immigration as "peace of mind".
Qiaowai's Chinese-language marketing material describes the project as "supported by the government, created by a star developer", and says the project is its 87th EB-5 program.