LANDLORD SUING THE US GOVERNMENT

Ivanka Trump’s Landlord Is a Chilean Billionaire Suing the U.S. Government

President Donald Trump’s daughter and her husband, White House adviser Jared Kushner, live in a Kalorama house owned by a Chilean business titan. His company is suing the U.S. over a Minnesota mine

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s home in the Kalorama neighborhood of Washington, D.C. PHOTO: SHAWN THEW/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting a Washington, D.C., home from a Chilean billionaire who bought it after the November election and whose company is embroiled in a dispute with the U.S. government over a mine potentially worth billions of dollars.

The six-bedroom house in the capital’s Kalorama neighborhood was bought for $5.5 million in late December by a company controlled by Andrónico Luksic, according to public records and interviews. Mr. Luksic’s family is the wealthiest in Chile, by some accounts, and controls a mining, banking and industrial empire that Forbes estimates is valued at $13.1 billion.

Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner are President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law. The couple moved into the house with their family around the time of his inauguration. Mr. Kushner is a top White House adviser.

The Obama administration in its waning days blocked a Luksic-company plan to build a giant copper-and-nickel mine adjacent to a Minnesota wilderness area, citing environmental concerns. The company and some Minnesota politicians are urging the Trump administration to reverse the decision.

Requests for comment from Mr. Luksic were referred to Rodrigo Terré, a relative of Mr. Luksic’s who manages the billionaire’s personal investments. Mr. Terré said that a Luksic company, Tracy DC Real Estate Inc., bought the Washington house as an investment and that the rental to the couple was coincidental. He said the couple was paying “absolute market value” in rent, declining to disclose the amount.

Ivanka Trump with her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.
Ivanka Trump with her husband, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. PHOTO: MARK WILSON/GETTY IMAGES

He said “categorically” there was no relationship between the house rental and the Minnesota mining dispute, adding that he and Mr. Luksic had not met their famous tenants.

A White House spokeswoman said that the family was paying “fair market value,” that the mining issue has never come up, and that the couple hasn’t met or spoken to the home’s owner. The pair weren’t aware of Mr. Luksic’s U.S. business interests at the time they agreed to rent the house, she said.

There is no other apparent connection between the Trump family and Mr. Luksic.

Rob Walker, an ethics lawyer at Wiley Rein LLP who has advised Republicans and Democrats, said there might not be an ethics problem if the couple are paying a market rent.

On the other hand, “it is a political-appearance question,” he said, because “deservedly or not, critics may still question the propriety of entering into any significant transaction with an individual with these apparent interests before the administration.”

Trevor Potter, a Republican lawyer who formerly chaired the Federal Election Commission, said: “To me, the favor is having a house made available to them on short notice.”

The house was not listed for rent on the Metropolitan Regional Information System, used to advertise listings. Mr. Terré said that, before closing on the house, he instructed his real-estate agent to tell other agents that the house would be available for rent.

The couple was shopping for a house late last year and looked at the Kalorama mansion. They weren’t interested in buying it and instead wanted to rent it, the White House spokeswoman said. Their broker said he represented someone who had a bid on the house and helped facilitate the match.

“The broker put it all together,” the spokeswoman said.

To collect rent on the house, Mr. Luksic’s company must obtain a business license and permits under Washington, D.C., law. It had yet to do so by early this week, according to filings and a city official. The law firm representing the Luksic company said it plans to file the paperwork shortly.

Mr. Luksic’s companies own other U.S. investment properties, but none in Washington until recently, Mr. Terré said.

A U.S. unit of the Luksic family’s mining company, Antofagasta PLC, is battling the federal government and environmental groups over its proposed Minnesota mine. Part of the project would sit on U.S. Forest Service land adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, a 1.1 million-acre tract of lakes and forest first protected by the government in 1926.

Andrónico Luksic, the Chilean billionaire who controls the company renting a house to Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner.
Andrónico Luksic, the Chilean billionaire who controls the company renting a house to Ms. Trump and Mr. Kushner. PHOTO: MARTIN BERNETTI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Luksic unit, Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, sued the U.S. government in September in a Minnesota federal court over a preliminary move by the Interior Department to deny renewal of two key mineral leases. Nonetheless, the department in December denied the leases, citing the risk of “serious and irreplaceable harm to this unique, iconic and irreplaceable wilderness area.”

The area of the disputed leases contains “one of the largest untapped copper and nickel resources in the world,” Twin Metals said in a February court filing, “conservatively estimated at more than $40 billion of in-ground mineral value.”

Twin Metals spent $160,000 lobbying Congress on the issue in the second half of 2016, federal records show. A Twin Metals spokesman said the company has asked the Trump administration to reverse the mineral-lease decision.

The proposed mine is opposed by environmental groups and by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat. It is supported by Minnesota officials of both parties who cite potential job creation.

U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents the area, in a news release attacked the lease decision as “anti-mining, anti-jobs” and in January urged the Trump administration to overturn a related Obama administration move to place a 20-year moratorium on mining in the area.

The Justice Department has asked the court for a 60-day delay in the case to allow “time to brief incoming administration officials” about the matter. “It is something we are actively reviewing,” an Interior Department spokeswoman said.

The 62-year-old Mr. Luksic is chairman of a family-controlled conglomerate and sits on the board of Antofagasta, the family’s mining concern. The family fortune was started in the 1950s with a mining investment by his father, the son of a Croatian immigrant.

In Chile, a bank part-owned by Mr. Luksic’s family has been drawn into a continuing investigation involving a loan to the daughter-in-law of the president, whose popularity has plummeted over the controversy. Chilean bank regulators have said they didn’t find anything improper in the loan, and a spokeswoman for Chile’s attorney general said this week the loan isn’t currently part of the probe and Mr. Luksic isn’t among those being investigated.

Mr. Luksic did meet with the president’s daughter-in-law about the loan but wasn’t personally involved in the decision to grant it and neither he nor the bank did anything wrong, a spokesman for the Luksic holding company said.

Companies controlled by Mr. Luksic own nine luxury apartments in Boston and two in Miami, according to real-estate records and Mr. Terré.

Mr. Luksic recalls meeting Mr. Trump just once, Mr. Terré said, at a New England Patriots game about four years ago Mr. Luksic attended as a guest of the team’s quarterback.

As for the move into Washington real estate, Mr. Terré said, the company “saw an opportunity” after Mr. Trump’s surprise victory because of turnover among government employees and others wanting to move there.

Mr. Luksic also bought two smaller apartments in an unfinished Washington building for a total of $1.8 million, according to Mr. Terré and property records.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s