The reason for U.S.’ hardliner stance against Qatar could be related to President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner’s incomplete transaction for a real estate project with a rich and influential man in the gulf country, according to reports.
According to the Intercept, Kushner Companies bought 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan for $1.8 billion in 2007. The 41-storey tower was considered the most expensive real estate deal ever in New York City at the time.
However, by 2015, Kushner was struggling to keep the property from going under. After looking for potential investors, they decided on Sheikh Hamad bin Jassam Al Thani. They negotiated for funds for refinancing the property directly with Al Thani who was the then prime minister of Qatar.
Colloquially known as HBJ, the former Qatar PM is one of the world’s wealthiest men, with a personal fortune of $10.3 billion. Kushner is not the first person to have asked HBJ for financial assistance. He is also alleged to have pumped in $10.21 billion to bail out multi-national bank Barclays at the height of the financial crisis in 2008 when he was the prime minister of Qatar. The goal was to save it from government ownership, even as its rivals Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group were bailed out.
In September 2003, Hamad was appointed first deputy prime minister while retaining his position of minister of foreign affairs after previous stints with the ministries of municipal affairs and agriculture. On 2 April, 2007, he was appointed prime minister, following the resignation of Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani. He also remained the foreign minister and oversaw the investment of billions of dollars of the emirate’s cash, generated by its enormous energy reserves.
HBJ is reported to have had strong connections with the US government. He serves on the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Institution and chairs the International Advisory Council of the Brookings Doha Center. He has stakes in many strong businesses such as Qatar Airways and the Foreign Investment Company, Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company, The Pearl and Harrods.
He remained the prime minister until 2013, till which time he controlled the sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority. It was through this channel that he provided bailout packages to many billionaires. Through this, he also invested in the condo conversion project One Wall Street of Harry Macklowe, a veteran property developer.
He also reportedly owns a yacht worth $300 million called Al Mirqab, the same name he gave to the private investment firm that Kushner pitched. HBJ agreed to invest at least $500 million to save Kushner’s project. The project came into the limelight afterTrump’s election. Negotiations continued throughout 2015 and 2016. However, the money provided by HBJ was not enough. Kushner and his father Charles Kushner were also set to receive $400 million from Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial conglomerate. In addition to the cash investment, the deal called for Anbang to take out a $4 billion loan to finance the demolition of the current building and the construction of an 80-story Zaha Hadid-designed residential and retail tower in its place. This $400 million combined with $100 million from other investors, helped the Kushners recoup the full amount of their original investment in 666 Fifth Avenue.
However, After Kushner was appointed senior adviser to Trump, the deal was criticized as a conflict of interest, leading Anbang to pull out. The deal with Qatar also died without the $4 billion loan, according to the Intercept.
It is reportedly because of this incomplete deal that the U.S. is employing a hardline stance against Qatar. Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for an end to the blockade against Qatar, the president contradicted Tillerson's message with his own comments that Qatar has "historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level." According to the Intercept, Tillerson believes Trump's comments were written by UAE Ambassador Yousef Al-Otaiba and delivered to the president by Jared Kushner himself.