May 29, 2017 / 7:19 AM / 3 months ago

U.S. Senator calls for probe into promotion of Kushner Cos deal

FILE PHOTO: A man stands next to a poster of immigration agency Qiaowai Group at the lobby to its office, in Beijing, China May 10, 2017.Jason Lee/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has called for an investigation into "potentially fraudulent statements and misrepresentations" made by companies promoting investment in a property development involving the family company of White House advisor Jared Kushner.

Citing a May 12 report by Reuters, Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, requested a review of claims made by Chinese migration agency Qiaowai and the U.S. Immigration Fund (USIF) in the marketing of the One Journal Square project in Jersey City, New Jersey to potential investors in China.

Grassley flagged his concerns to the Department of Homeland Security and the Securities and Exchange Commission in a May 24 letter that was later posted on his website.

Jupiter, Florida-based USIF contracted with Beijing-based Qiaowai to market projects including One Journal Square to potential investors through the controversial EB-5 scheme. The program offers qualified foreign investors the chance at a green card in exchange for a $500,000 investment in a U.S. business.

Kushner Companies is also working with KABR Group, a private equity fund, on the One Journal Square project, according to marketing materials on Qiaowai's website. The developers are seeking to raise $150 million, or 15.4 percent of the funding, from EB-5 investors.

Because the SEC considers some EB-5 investments securities, companies and individuals that market these investments must comply with U.S. securities laws.

EB-5 schemes must also comply with immigration rules. Under United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidelines, EB-5 investors must put their capital at risk and the green card is not guaranteed. USCIS is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

In an emailed response to a request for comment on Grassley's letter, Stu Loeser, a spokesman for USIF, said: "Qiaowai and U.S. Immigration Fund are fully in compliance with all laws relating to the sale of securities to immigrant investors. These allegations are gross distortions and unsupported by the facts."  

Reuters previously revealed that Qiaowai’s promotional materials online and on social media, including for the One Journal Square project, sometimes referred to a green card guarantee or “safeguard” and the safety of capital invested in EB-5 projects. [nL4N1IB4L8]

After Reuters contacted Qiaowai for comment, these phrases were deleted. Qiaowai has also dropped the phrase "government-supported" from its online promotion of the One Journal Square project.

“It is a fundamental rule of the EB-5 program that an applicant’s investment must remain “at risk” up to the end of the alien’s conditional permanent resident status, and a “guaranteed” investment fails this basic EB-5 test; if Qiaowai is in fact guaranteeing the safety of the investment principal, all related EB-5 petitions should be rejected by USCIS,” wrote Grassley, who has long advocated for reform of the EB-5 program.

Qiaowai’s assurances to investors that their green cards were guaranteed and their funds were safe appeared to violate U.S. securities laws, Grassley's letter said. It also cited a report on the project's promotion by the New York Times.

Kushner Companies and the SEC declined to comment. Qiaowai, KABR Group and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to requests for comment over the weekend.

Chinese investors account for around 80 percent of the nearly 10,000 EB-5 visas issued annually.

Criticism of the program has centered on instances of fraud and the fact that most of the funds in a program originally intended to help impoverished areas have instead gone to wealthy urban districts. Despite these concerns, earlier this month, Congress extended the EB-5 program until September 30.

The Chinese road show for One Journal Square earlier this month also attracted criticism. Kushner Companies apologized for Nicole Kushner Meyer’s reference to her brother, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, during the road show.

The company stressed that he was only mentioned in order to make clear that he was not involved with the project. Kushner Companies representatives skipped some later road show events.

Jared Kushner, whose White House portfolio includes relations with China, sold his stake in Kushner Companies to a family trust early this year.

Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom and Caren Bohan in Washington; Editing by Lincoln Feast

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