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Trump’s son-in-law Kushner secures controversial Belgrade real estate deal

by editor

BELGRADE — After years of secretive negotiations and involvement from Serbia’s political elite, Jared Kushner’s investment firm Affinity Partners has officially secured a 99-year permit to develop a luxury compound in Belgrade.

Kushner is the son-in-law of former U.S. President Donald Trump and was a senior adviser during Trump’s White House run from 2017 to early 2021. The deal has faced outrage in Serbia, centered mostly around the building’s historical significance — in particular, that a U.S. company would be redeveloping the symbol of a Washington-led bombing campaign.

“The Government of Serbia has chosen a reputable American company as a partner in this venture, which will invest in the revitalization of the complex of the former Federal Secretariat for National Defense,” Goran Vesić, Serbia’s construction and infrastructure minister, said in a written release.

Journalists were not granted access to the official signing of the document between Vesić and Asher Abehsera, a longtime Kushner associate who represented Affinity Partners in Belgrade.

Instead, a press release and one photograph of the signing were published on the ministry website. This was despite promises from Vesić before the signing that the process would be more transparent going forward.

Negotiations for reconstructing the Yugoslav army headquarters with Trump and his family date back to 2013. At that time, then-Prime Minister Ivica Dačić revealed Trump’s interest in building a luxury hotel on the prime Belgrade real estate.

The current government was forced to admit its negotiations with Affinity Partners after an opposition politician leaked details of the deal earlier this year.

“We will restore the building 25 years after it was destroyed in the bombing. In a quarter of a century, no one, before this government, thought of renovating the complex,” Vesić’s statement added.

Trump’s anti-establishment stances and his embrace of autocrats align well with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who recently organized a grandiose welcome for Chinese President Xi Jinping and refuses to participate in sanctions against Russia. Critics suspect that leveraging deals with his son-in-law might be a way to pay forward for potential favors in the event of a second Trump administration.

The site’s historical significance, particularly its targeting during the U.S.-backed NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, also evokes strong emotions among Serbians.

The army intelligence center was rendered effectively unusable, and since then has remained largely untouched for decades.

The 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, following the bloody conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo, remains the primary source of Serbian nationalist claims and grievances — namely that they were unfairly targeted by the West for their government’s role in the wars.

Every politician in Serbia has leveraged the event to fuel anti-Western and particularly anti-American sentiment. It is also a favorite talking point for Russian President Vladimir Putin, often used to highlight alleged Western overreach.

But this has not stopped development plans, despite the irony of a U.S. company being involved in the area’s redevelopment.

The Serbian government has tried to soften the blow by announcing that a memorial complex will also be built on the grounds of the Kushner compound.

“The memorial complex will be financed by the investors and will be owned by the Republic of Serbia, which will decide on the program content of the complex and will manage it,” explained Vesić in the statement.

This has raised more questions than assuaged fears. For the memorial complex or museum dedicated to the bombing victims to truly resonate with Serbs, it would need to be highly critical of the U.S. and NATO. However, some believe this is impossible because an American company would be responsible for setting it up.

Opposition politicians, including Aleksandar Jovanović Ćuta from the Ecological Uprising who first leaked the plans, have announced protests.

“We know what we will do. The Ecological Uprising will physically as well as legally prevent this project from being carried out,” Jovanović said.

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