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Serbia Approves Contract With Jared Kushner for Hotel Complex


The Serbian government has approved a contract with Jared Kushner on plans to build a luxury hotel on the site of the former defense ministry in Belgrade, putting him directly into business with a European state as his father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, vies to return to the White House.

Mr. Kushner is pursuing the $500 million hotel project in partnership with Richard Grenell. A former Trump administration aide, Mr. Grenell first proposed that U.S. investors attempt to redevelop the long-vacant bombed-out site of the former Yugoslav Ministry of Defense while Mr. Grenell was still a diplomat, serving as a special envoy to the Balkans.

The deal, which provoked protests in Belgrade on Thursday, is with an affiliate of Mr. Kushner’s Affinity Partners, the three-year-old, $3 billion investment fund backed by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.

“The government of Serbia has chosen a reputable American company as a partner in this venture, which will invest in the revitalization of the former Federal Secretariat for National Defense complex,” a Serbian government official said in a statement released on Wednesday.

The complex was bombed in 1999 by NATO forces with the backing of the United States during the war Serbia was then waging with Kosovo. It is now considered a prime undeveloped real-estate site in the middle of a much-changed city, and Mr. Trump himself had considered building a hotel at the same site in 2013.

For Mr. Kushner, who is also planning two luxury hotel projects in neighboring Albania, these deals in the Balkans are among the largest he has made since starting his investment firm.

“The economic progress in Serbia over the past decade has been impressive,” Mr. Kushner said in a statement confirming the approval of the deal. “This development will further elevate Belgrade into the premier international destination it is becoming.”

Mr. Kushner and his partners plan to build a hotel, retail space and more than 1,500 residential units. The approved plan includes a proposal to build a museum and memorial complex to those injured or killed during the NATO bombings. The memorial will be owned and managed by the government and designed “in collaboration with Serbian architects,” Mr. Kushner’s company said in a statement.

The Serbian government, in its statement, said that it will retain ownership of the site and the investor group, Affinity Global Development, has a set period of time to complete the project, or the land will be returned to the government’s control.

But the approval of the contract — which includes a 99-year lease and an agreement to share profits from the development of the three-block area with the Serbian government — has drawn criticism from opposition leaders in the Serbian parliament, among others.

Protesters blocked traffic in front of the former defense ministry headquarters on Thursday and put up signs questioning the decision, including some that said: “Stop Giving Army HQ as a Present to American Offshore Companies.”

Some in Serbia object to the plan because of the United States’ role in the bombing 25 years ago.

“Somebody is trying to clear up the mess that they did, and they are not those who should do anything in this place,” said Dragan Jonic, a member of parliament, who participated in the protest on Thursday.

The project also has drawn attention from House Democrats who asked Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee to investigate the proposed deals, though there has been no movement by Republicans to do so.

“Jared Kushner is pursuing new foreign business deals, just as Donald Trump becomes the presumptive Republican nominee for the presidency,” Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, and Representative Robert Garcia, Democrat of California, wrote in March, after The New York Times first disclosed details of the planned projects.

Mr. Kushner, in an interview, has said that as a private citizen he has the right to pursue international real-estate and business deals, even if they involve foreign governments.

“One of the reasons I think firms like us as investors, they know that if Affinity comes in we’re a mark of kosher,” Mr. Kushner said in an interview in March. “Because again, we’re a highly scrutinized firm. We operate very professionally.”



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