2020-02-07 — ft.com
On a busy stretch of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue a few blocks south of Trump Tower, a decaying skyscraper stands as a rebuke to the $1.8bn deal that Jared Kushner helped his family sign a decade ago, at the age of 26. It was the most expensive New York office purchase in history, and for a time it looked likely to sink the Kushners' business. Steve Roth, the billionaire who co-owned 666 Fifth Avenue, lamented it would "be worth a lot more if it was just dirt".By 2016, Mr Kushner was searching for a way out. Destined for a top job in his father-in-law's White House the following year, he found plenty of people to talk to, but no one who was buying. Discussions with Anbang, the Chinese insurance group, came to a halt some time before its flashy chairman Wu Xiaohui landed in a Chinese jail. The Qatari finance minister Ali Shareef al-Emadi met Mr Kushner's father in 2017, although Charles Kushner has said he took the appointment "out of respect" and stressed there could be no deal.Then, with months to go before $1.2bn of mortgage payments fell due in February 2019, the Kushners won a reprieve -- one that looked nothing like a favour from a foreign state. It was an investment from financial group Brookfield, which leased the building whole, paying nearly a century of rent in advance.
To unpack the Canadian group's accounts is to discover not so much a company as a giant, triangular jigsaw board that spreads across the world and covers assets worth $500bn. The pieces are hundreds of corporate entities, all locked together by elaborate contracts, which give 40 people at the top the right to rule huge sections of the puzzle almost as if it were their own. Those insiders wield such power that the companies below them could face risks similar to those of "pyramid control companies", according to a draft investor disclosure that Brookfield filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2013. (The final version warned instead of risks "associated with a separation of economic interest from control".)
The known links between Qatar and Brookfield all converge on the investment group's listed property fund BPY. About one-tenth of the fund's assets are tied up in skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and Manhattan that are co-owned by Qatar, but the connection goes further. Through a sovereign wealth fund, Doha is one of BPY's biggest investors, holding $1.8bn worth of BPY preferred equity. The securities have a debtlike quality, and Qatar can force BAM to buy them back for $1.8bn over the next six years.In theory, Qatar has significant influence over BPY. It is entitled to choose one person to sit on BPY's board, and to receive confidential information that other investors never see. Brookfield says the kingdom has never exercised either of those rights. (The Qatar Investment Authority declined to comment.) Both sides have previously indicated that, when Brookfield was negotiating a $1.3bn lease on 666 Fifth Avenue, a building that Charles Kushner had discussed with the Qataris the previous year, the kingdom was not involved.No matter who made the decision or knew about it, rescuing the Kushners strikes some real estate investors as ill-advised.
In the public accounts of BPY, the listed property fund that received Qatari investment, 666 Fifth Avenue has already all but disappeared. Last January, BPY lost control of BSREP III, the private vehicle that owns the building, after reducing its stake to $1bn. New investors piled in, each taking a piece of the Kushner tower, and lifting the private fund's firepower to $15bn.That influx of cash has not made the tower's ownership any more transparent. A handful of US pension funds have acknowledged their participation, but few other investors have been identified publicly. Knowledgeable people insist that no Qatari money is involved. Materials reviewed by the FT show that about $3bn of the total comes from sovereign governments, although they do not specify which ones, and $2bn of it from the Middle East, although the document does not say exactly where.
So, despite claims to the contrary, Qatari money was indeed involved in "bootstrapping" the Kushner bailout (based on God knows what geopolitical pressure). Now a bunch of other anonymous investors have taken their place and piled on, but admittedly, as $3 bln from sovereign governments, $2 bln from the Middle East. The potential conflicts of interest with US foreign policy are unknown (and, given recent experiences with the Trump administration, constitute a realistic, if not critical, concern).
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