Jared Kushner’s tangled web of Russian contacts and business dealings may prove his undoing. It also imperils the global balance of power.
Billionaire boys were all the rage at the start of this decade. Young men with last names like Zuckerberg, Thiel, Dorsey and Kushner became instant moguls in an era of free-flowing capital, unicorn dreams and billion dollar IPOs.
Against this backdrop, in 2014, Joshua and Jared Kushner and their friend, Ryan Williams, created Cadre. Williams was the public face of the operation while the Kushner boys worked investors through their V.C. fund, Thrive Capital Partners. They raised $18 million in an initial funding round which included tech mega-stars like Sun Microsystems founder Vinod Khosla, David Yu, George Soros and PayPal founder, Peter Thiel.
Cadre was conceived as a data-driven real estate platform. A private club whose super-wealthy members gained access to the type of premium real estate deals the rest of us would have only learned about, if we happened to drive by the construction sites.
Cadre is estimated to be worth $800 million today and is attracting the attention of Trump-Russia investigators. As with many scandals, it was the cover-up which tipped off investigators to the underlying potential crime. Jared Kushner failed to disclose his $25 million stake in Cadre on his financial disclosure forms when he was appointed White House special adviser by Donald Trump, his father-in-law.
Kushner “inadvertently” left off a total of 70 investment holdings from the forms, an act which may constitute a felony and also begs the question: Is there something about Cadre – and Kushner’s other holdings – which made him risk five years in jail by forgetting to disclose them on a mandatory form?
The Paradise Papers link Jared Kushner to Kremlin cash.
“I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector,” Kushner told reporters in July, while standing behind a White House podium placed in the driveway of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Kushner had just testified before a congressional committee denying any collusion with Russian officials in the 2016 election and dismissing any notion he had business ties to Russia.
Last month, a leaked trove of documents revealing the origins of major global investments, the Paradise Papers, put lie to Kushner’s denials. They exposed a Russian tech billionaire as an investor in Cadre. Digital Sky Technologies CEO Yuri Milner had invested $850,000 in Kushner’s company via a family trust, the Paradise Papers revealed.
DST is a Russian-owned private global investment firm with holdings in some of the world’s biggest brands in tech. While the company’s funding origins have raised suspicion before, the Paradise Papers revealed DST was operating as an investment front for sanctioned Kremlin companies investing in U.S. firms.
In 2011, two sanctioned Russian government firms, VTB Bank and Gazprom, gave Milner’s DST $191 million to buy large stakes in Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook investment was made just before the social network went public and its value mushroomed to $1 Bn after the listing.
“It was a different time,” Milner said in an interview with The New York Times. “It never even occurred to me back then that VTB Bank was not just another investor for us.”
Milner may shrug off the investment as a remnant of a different age, but it’s given Special Counsel Robert Mueller hard evidence the Kremlin was a business partner of Facebook, Twitter and Kushner’s Cadre.
The Kushner boys’ V.C. firm, Thrive Capital Partners, is also indirectly linked to a major Russian bank with deep ties to Trump-Russia. Thrive’s investment custodian is Silicon Valley Bank which partnered with sanctioned Russian Sberbank to invest in the U.S. tech sector in 2012.
Sberbank is the same bank which sponsored Donald Trump’s 2013 Moscow Miss Universe and VTB Bank was involved in funding the proposed Trump Tower in Moscow. There are many questions about whether the Kremlin used Sberbank to launder money through Cyprus, Trump properties and the tech sector.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller now has a financial trail linking Kushner’s businesses to Kremlin cash via DST’s Yuri Milner and Russia’s Sberbank via Silicon Valley Bank. That’s aside from Kushner’s December meeting with Sergey Gorkov of Vnesheconombank and a recently revealed campaign overture from former Russian central banker Aleksander Torshin. Jared Kushner’s denials about his business ties to Russia do not hold up.
There is also the albatross around Kushner’s neck known as 666 Fifth Avenue. He bought the Manhattan trophy building in 2007 for an inflated $1.8 Bn and is now facing a $1.2 Bn mortgage bill he cannot repay. Kushner has been seeking a bailout from anyone who’ll listen including the Qataris, Chinese and Russians.
Data is the global weapon of choice for nation states trying to tip the balance of power.
Russian President Vladimir Putin knows data is the future of power. “[Artificial intelligence is] the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” Putin asserted on state-funded RT recently. “Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Cadre, Facebook and Twitter, like many data-driven tech behemoths are all cast from the same dye: They use data to control the price and pace of commerce based on who you are, what you like, how much you’re worth and with whom you are friends.
This data becomes even more significant in an era of Artificial Intelligence. A.I. is accelerating at such a pace that it’s hard to overstate how much machine-thinking will change every aspect of our lives in the coming years. A.I. will control your existence and whomever controls A.I., will rule the world.
In this context, Putin’s multi-year campaign to invest in the U.S. tech sector was both cunning and shrewd. He was able to use his social network investments to exploit the social media landscape and elect a president with his own compromising Russian business interests. And now we know Trump’s son-in-law is also connected to Kremlin cash.
Make no mistake though, Trump’s election was only a means to an end in Putin’s strategic game. What he really seeks is nothing less than a shift in global power.
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia and Jared Kushner. Why global power is literally shifting beneath your feet.
In October, Saudi Arabia held a conference which many dubbed “Davos in the Desert”. The Kingdom used the conference to announce it intends to invest its vast liquid assets from fossil fuels into the tech sector. They plan to grow their Public Investment Fund from a current $65 Bn to $400 Bn, in just two years.
Like Russia, Saudi Arabia is a country which flagrantly flouts human rights norms. Still, 3,000 delegates from around the world attended the Riyadh conference. Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and Blackrock CEO Larry Fink were all there. So was Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin.
Newly installed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, made a rare appearance at the conference with a message: ‘We are open for business’.
Prince Salman also announced the kingdom would return to “a more moderate Islam and destroy extremist ideologies. He announced women would be allowed to drive and also made a humanoid a citizen of the kingdom.
“We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world,” Prince Salman said.
Prince Salman presents himself as a grand reformer but his actions seem to be more authoritarian than liberal. He has aggressively consolidated power and arrested Saudi Arabia’s richest and most powerful men in an ‘anti-corruption’ drive. He started a massive blockade of neighboring Qatar, is committing genocide in Yemen, forced the Lebanese Prime Minister to resign and is igniting the flames of war with Iran.
And at the center of the crown prince’s draconian crackdown is none other than Jared Kushner, who has developed an intriguing friendship with Prince Salman, according to Foreign Policy Magazine:
“Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, was in Riyadh again only recently. It was his third trip to Saudi Arabia since Trump took office. He again met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have established a close personal relationship. It should therefore come as no surprise that Trump, who shares the young crown prince’s antipathy toward Iran, has commented favorably on the recent developments in Riyadh.”
Kushner has given Prince Salman carte blanche to reshape the Middle East using any means necessary. Laura Rozen quotes a former U.S. admin official as warning the situation could turn into chaos. “There is no one who has that camaraderie with the crown prince and has the instinctive desire to find common ground that Jared does. If something happens to Jared — he gets distracted or is no longer on the scene — what happens to [their] critical relationship with the White House?”
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have been U.S. allies for the better part of a century as foes of Shiite-controlled Iran. Prince Salman however, has shifted his foreign policy eastward. He recently signed a $3 Bn arms deal with the Kremlin. The deal was described by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as “an historical moment”. Putin called it a “landmark event”. Add to this, Russia’s military and political control over Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and it’s easy to see how Russia may have used its influence over the Trump White House as cover to shift the balance of Middle East power.
This plan appears to have originated as early as last December when Kushner, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, mercenary Erik Prince and Stephen Bannon met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in secret in New York. Abu Dhabi is the capital of Saudi’s regional ally, United Arab Emirates.
Prince Zayed acted as an intermediary between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin since then. He met with Putin twice in 2016 and facilitated a meeting between Erik Prince and a Russian emissary in the Seychelles in December. According to reports, the meeting revolved around isolating Iran in exchange for a dropping of U.S. sanctions.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is also investigating Kushner’s communication with Israeli officials in December to help veto a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli construction in disputed territories. Kushner also met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and discussed a back-door communication channel with the Russians in the same month.
Does any of this connect to Kushner’s financial woes? Perhaps. In 2015 and 2016, Kushner and his father, Charles, negotiated a financial bail-out of 666 Fifth Avenue with a Qatari sheikh. The $500 million deal failed in July this year. Soon after, Saudi Arabia launched its blockade against Qatar with Trump’s support. Kushner visited Saudi Arabia three times since. Are the Saudi’s helping bail out the Kushners in exchange for looking the other way on Prince Salman’s crackdown?
Kushner’s business history shows no allegiance to conscience. He has ties to Kremlin insiders and sanctioned Russian entities, his deliberate obfuscation on his disclosure forms and an obstruction of justice investigation suggest Kushner cannot be viewed as an honest broker. He remains a singular focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and it seems evident the billionaire boy should not be trusted to handle our mid-east policy, until Mueller has completed his job.
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Has a more tangled web ever been woven?