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Jared Kushner's Firm Wins Approval For $500M Hotel Project In Serbia

Jared Kushner in 2017, during his tenure at the White House.

The government of Serbia has approved a half-billion-dollar development plan on the site of the country’s former defense ministry led by Jared Kushner’s Affinity Partners, The New York Times reports.

Affinity and Kushner's longtime development partner in Brooklyn, Asher Abehsera, are planning a $500M luxury hotel development after landing the 99-year lease for the site at the heart of Belgrade, the nation's capital. It was previously home to two buildings used by the Yugoslav Ministry of Defense, then bombed by NATO forces in 1999, after which it has sat fallow. 

Affinity plans to build a hotel, luxury apartments, office and retail space, but the plans have drawn contention over potential conflicts of interest because of Kushner's stint as senior adviser at the White House under former President  Donald Trump, his father-in-law, who is a leading candidate to return to the presidency in this year's election.

Kushner is also working with former Trump administration aide Richard Grenell, the Times reported.

More than 22,000 Serbians have signed a petition asking for the remains of the two buildings to be preserved rather than redeveloped, per Reuters. Opposition groups have mounted protests against the deal, the Associated Press reported

As part of the deal, Affinity agreed to also build a memorial center dedicated to victims of the bombing. It agreed to return the land without payment if the investment isn’t completed on time or if the memorial center is not built.

Grenell originally pitched the idea that U.S. investors should develop the Belgrade site when he was a special envoy to the Balkans under Trump. Grenell, who also served as ambassador to Germany from 2018 to 2020, previously pitched U.S. involvement in the Belgrade development as part of a “healing” of the relationship between the two countries, according to the Times. 

Affinity is also receiving scrutiny as Trump seeks to return to the White House for a second term as U.S. President. Kushner has said that he isn't looking for a return to government or politics, but the firm’s funding sources and existing deals could still lead to complications, the Times reported.

Affinity, which Kushner founded after Trump lost the 2020 election, has raised $3B, 99% of which has come from foreign investors. Its biggest backer is the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, which the Times reported has invested $2B in the fund. Other investors come from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel, Dubai, Brazil and Germany.

The firm has also recently started planning for two luxury hotel developments in Albania, which are among the largest deals that Affinity has closed since the firm was founded. Multiple projects from Affinity Partners in both Serbia and Albania involve concessions from those governments. 

“It is a conflict of interest in the most stark sense,” Adav Noti, executive director of Campaign Legal Center, told the Times. “The president of the United States needs to be advancing the interest of the United States and not the financial interests of family members.”

Kushner has said in previous interviews that any country seeking deals with Affinity to score deals with the U.S. government if Trump wins November’s election would not result in favors.

“We’re a highly scrutinized firm,” Kushner told the Times in an interview last month. “We operate very professionally.”