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Kushner company moves lawsuit venue to keep partners secret

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By BERNARD CONDON
AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - The family real estate company once run by presidential adviser Jared Kushner is shifting a federal court case to a new venue so it won't have to reveal the identities of foreign partners behind some of its real estate projects.

With a deadline approaching within hours, the Kushner Cos. filed papers in federal court Friday to move the case involving Maryland apartment complexes it owns with foreign investors back to state court. A federal district court judge ruled last month that the Kushners had to identify its partners by Friday, rejecting arguments from the family company that such disclosures would violate privacy rights.

The Kushner Cos. had also argued that media coverage of the case was "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism" given that the company was once run by Jared Kushner, now a senior adviser to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump.

But the judge sided with a motion from The Associated Press and other media organizations that argued the public right to know held sway.

The case has attracted media attention because it promised a rare glimpse into how New York-based Kushner Cos. raises money for its real estate projects, revealing ties to lenders and investors who could possibly raise conflict-of-interest issues.

The fight over disclosure in federal court stems from a lawsuit that started out in Maryland state court last year on an entirely different matter. That lawsuit was brought by tenants alleging a Kushner Cos. affiliate called Westminster Management charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments. It sought class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes. Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

Court papers did not specifically give a reason for the decision by Kushner Cos. to move the case to a state court. Kushner Cos. spokeswoman Christine Taylor said only that "our counsel on this matter has determined that the case should be remanded to state court."

The Kushner Cos. is privately held and so little is known about the identity of partners investing alongside it, and thus if they have any regulatory or other matters before the federal government. That the partners backing the Maryland apartments are from overseas raises questions about conflicts in foreign-policies issues, too.

Kushner has been given a big role shaping U.S. policy with China and in the Mideast, where he is trying to forge a peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Personal financial disclosure forms filed with the federal government show that Kushner Cos. and Kushner personally have borrowed from Deutsche Bank and Israel Discount Bank. Many other ties are hidden behind the names of limited liability companies.

The issue of who exactly are the partners of Kushner Cos. in Maryland came up because the federal court needed to establish that it had jurisdiction and that some of defendants came from outside the state. With the case going back to state court, that disclosure is no longer required.

Nathan Siegel, a lawyer with Davis Wright Tremaine who represented the media in the motion, said fighting for disclosure was important despite that the issue is now moot.

"I'm still pleased that the court recognized the principle that judicial proceedings are supposed to be open," he said.

In Kushner's federal disclosure report, Kushner showed he still owned a stake in Westminster Management, the subsidiary in the Maryland case. The report showed he received $1.6 million in income from it.

The AP joined ProPublica, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore TV station WMAR-TV in filing its motion arguing for disclosure.

Kushner stepped down as Kushner Cos. CEO last year when he joined the Oval Office. He sold stakes in properties to comply with federal conflicts of interest rules, but held onto many of other assets.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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