The main Saudi sovereign wealth fund, controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, invested $2 billion in Jared Kushner's new private equity firm six months after Kushner left the White House, where he was a key defender of bin Salman, even though the Saudi fund's investment screening committee expressed serious misgivings, The New York Times reported Sunday night, citing internal documents. Kushner was a senior White House adviser to his father-in-law, former President Donald Trump.
The screening committee's four members — current or former heads of Saudi Aramco, Dow Chemical, the Saudi Central Bank, and Saudi Industrial Development Fund — voted unanimously against investing in Kushner's fledging Affinity Fund, citing the "inexperience" of its management, an asset management fee that "seems excessive," and the fact that due diligence found the firm's operations "unsatisfactory in all aspects," the Times reports. "But days later the full board of the $620 billion Public Investment Fund" overruled the screening panel.
At the same time, the screening committee endorsed the fund's $1 billion investment with former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's new Liberty Strategic Capital, the Times reports. Mnuchin's fund is "focused on cybersecurity, financial technology, and entertainment — all sectors that fit Saudi priorities" — while Kushner's "has not publicly disclosed a theme or focus." Kushner's fund reported $2.5 billion under management, most of which "appears to be the $2 billion from Saudi Arabia," the Times reports, while Liberty Strategic Capital reports raising $2.7 billion from a total of 33 investors.
The Saudi investment with Kushner, who "has little experience or track record in private equity," is also "on more generous terms" than the smaller investment with Mnuchin, a successful investor before joining the Trump administration, the Times notes.
"Ethics experts say that such a deal creates the appearance of potential payback for Mr. Kushner's actions in the White House — or of a bid for future favor if Mr. Trump seeks and wins another presidential term in 2024," the Times reports. Among other things, "Kushner played a leading role inside the Trump administration defending Crown Prince Mohammed after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that he had approved the 2018 killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post and resident of Virginia who had criticized the kingdom's rulers."