Due to an apparent conflict of interest, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has launched an investigation into a New York-based real estate company owned by the family of White House senior adviser Jared Kushner over the misuse of a controversial visa program. In exchange for a $500,000 investment into Kushner Companies, tens of thousands of wealthy Chinese citizens have basically purchased U.S. visas in order to immigrate to the United States.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, Kushner Companies received a subpoena from the SEC in May after several articles revealed that Kushner’s sister, Nicole Meyer, promoted the company’s use of the EB-5 visa program to a ballroom full of Chinese investors at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Beijing. A brochure at the event read, “Invest $500,000 and immigrate to the United States.”
According to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the minimum qualifying investment either within a high-unemployment area or rural area in the United States is $500,000. Under this program, entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence) if they make the necessary investment in a commercial enterprise in the U.S., and plan to create or preserve 10 permanent full-time jobs for qualified U.S. workers.
One day after President Donald Trump signed a spending bill that included a renewal of the program, Kushner’s sister solicited Chinese investment into Kushner Companies during the event in Beijing. Besides investing the foreign money in government bonds, businesses, and mountain ski resorts, the money also went toward real estate projects, including a Trump-branded tower in New Jersey built by the Kushner Companies.
In May, an Associated Press analysis found that Chinese investors had spent at least $7.7 billion in exchange for receiving more than 40,000 U.S. visas through the EB-5 visa program within the last decade. In the past four years, federal regulators have linked the EB-5 visa program to fraud cases involving more than $1 billion in investments.
“It’s incredibly stupid and highly inappropriate,” Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer in President George W. Bush’s administration, told The Washington Post. “They clearly imply that the Kushners are going to make sure you get your visa… They’re [Chinese applicants] not going to take a chance. Of course they’re going to want to invest.”
Despite the fact that Kushner resigned from his company upon taking his current position at the White House last year, he still owns a minority stake in the business. Due to U.S. ethics laws, government officials are prohibited from personally profiting from their public-sector work.
In November, the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, which has lent hundreds of millions over the years to the Kushner family and President Trump. Deutsche Bank is suspected of selling part of Trump’s roughly $300 million in debt to Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian government-owned development bank. A month before Trump’s inauguration, Kushner met with the head of VEB, Sergei Gorkov, in New York City while VEB was facing U.S. sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Crimea.