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Kushner Companies backed out of Chinese investor events after furor

Nicole Kushner Meyer (C), the sister of US White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and her husband Joseph Meyer look on during a promotional event in Shanghai on May 7, 2017.
Albeen Zhang | AFP | Getty Images
Nicole Kushner Meyer (C), the sister of US White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, and her husband Joseph Meyer look on during a promotional event in Shanghai on May 7, 2017.

The real estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump, said on Friday that its employees would no longer take part in a cross-country roadshow in China this month.

Executives from Kushner Companies, including Nicole Meyer, Mr. Kushner's sister, were expected to appear in the southern cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou and the central city of Wuhan this month, according to ads for the events.

But after an uproar, the company and its Chinese partner said on Friday that Kushner Companies would no longer be present at those events, although it will continue to actively court investors.

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The company is seeking $150 million in financing for a New Jersey housing development through a program that gives foreigners who invest at least $500,000 a shot at green cards, which allow permanent residence in the United States. The overall sum represents about 15 percent of the total cost of the property project.

But the effort to raise money in China drew widespread criticism, with ethics experts saying it presented a conflict of interest. Mr. Kushner continues to benefit from a stake in his family's real estate business and other investments worth as much as $600 million.

On Friday, Risa B. Heller, a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies, said its employees would no longer participate in the roadshow after taking part in meetings in Beijing and Shanghai last weekend.

"No one from Kushner Companies will be in China this weekend," she said in a statement, which was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

The Chinese partner of Kushner Companies, an immigration agency named Qiaowai, said on Friday that the meetings this month would go forward, but that no one from Kushner Companies would attend. Qiaowai had marketed the Kushner family's visit as a five-city tour over two weeks, ending in Wuhan. The Chinese firm will still give presentations on the New Jersey project, field questions on the investor visa program and solicit investments.

Ms. Meyer added a star turn to efforts by Kushner Companies to raise money in China. Mr. Kushner is married to Mr. Trump's elder daughter, Ivanka. Since Mr. Trump took office in January, fascination with his family has grown in China, especially as Mr. Kushner has become a power broker in relations between Washington and Beijing.

Speaking at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Beijing on Saturday, Ms. Meyer said the New Jersey project, called One Journal Square, "means a lot to me and my entire family." She said Mr. Kushner, who resigned as chief executive of the company in January, was now serving in the White House.

Ms. Meyer's remarks drew intense backlash in the United States, with critics seizing on the roadshow as a stark example of the conflicts of interest in Mr. Trump's White House.

The company later apologized, saying Ms. Meyer did not intend to use her brother's name to lure investors. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Kushner was in compliance with ethics rules and had "nothing to do" with the company's work in China.

Adding to the fallout, the mayor of Jersey City, N.J., where One Journal Square is set to be built, said on Sunday that he opposed the Kushner family's request for hefty tax breaks for the project.

The roadshow also raised questions about the investor visa program known as EB-5, which has been plagued by fraud and abuse scandals and is likely to be overhauled this year.

Even in China, where business and politics often mix, there was a hint of indignation. State-run news media published reports asking whether the company was benefiting from unfair competition.

"Caution urged on Kushner project," read a headline in the Global Times newspaper.

But Hao Junbo, a lawyer in Beijing, said Ms. Meyer's emphasis on family connections would probably prove to be a winning message in China.

"Chinese people have a tradition of worshiping powerful officials," he said. "It's an innate attraction to Chinese investors. They will automatically label the program as one with official backing after they hear the name of Trump's son-in-law."

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