Tag Archives: Kalorama

What’s Up With the Kalorama Business License?

As of this morning, it looks as if the lawyers for Chilean mining magnate Andronico Luksic Craig decided not to renew, or simply neglected to renew, the District of Columbia business license for Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc., the company that owns the Kalorama Triangle mansion rented by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. (For some background, see this post.) A search for the license on the District of Columbia’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs site conducted yesterday at 9:43AM — on the day the license was set to expire — showed that it was “ready to renew.”
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Today, the same search yields no records.

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A search for Tracy DC Real Estate’s corporate information on the DC Business Center site shows the same thing: the entity is active, but does not have a Basic Business License or “BBL.”

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So it’s possible that Tracy DC Real Estate is no longer carrying a business license for the Kalorama mansion, and has been unlicensed in DC as of midnight last night. (District of Columbia municipal regulations require all landlords to have a business license. Those without one cannot legally demand that tenants pay their rent and may incur fines.) It seems equally likely that there is something about the way the system processes renewals that accounts for the disappearance of Tracy DC Real Estate licensing information.

I wasn’t able to learn much one way or the other when I called the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs this morning and inquired about the lack of search results. The clerk told me the license had probably disappeared from the search because the license simply had not been renewed, but, he added, there is always a chance the paperwork is still “in the mail” and the renewal just hasn’t been processed.

In the mail? The DCRA site offers online renewal services, and it seems odd that Luksic’s attorneys, or Tracy DC Real Estate’s corporation agent, CT Corporation Services, would not have taken advantage of that. These are not people who let things lapse or go about their affairs in a careless or haphazard way. (Public records show, for example, that they have scrupulously kept up with property tax payments, incurring no penalties since taking ownership. The next tax payment on the Kalorama mansion — $22,540 — is due on March 31, 2019.*)

As the Twin Metals timeline indicates, Tracy DC Real Estate was formed on December 15, 2016, the same day as Department of Interior Solicitor Hillary Tompkins issued her M-Opinion denying renewal of the Twin Metals leases in Superior National Forest. Corporate records show that incorporation was done by Jonathan Cohen and Richard J. Snyder of the law firm Duane Morris LLP. (Filings list the Duane Morris LLP offices on 505 9th Street NW in Washington, DC as Tracy DC Real Estate’s business address.) A Robert M. Snyder, who does not appear to work at Duane Morris, but appears to be a relative of attorney Richard J. Snyder, is listed as the “governor” of the corporation.

Richard J. Snyder’s bio on the Duane Morris site makes it clear that setting up the business end of the Kalorama Triangle mansion is just one of several matters he handles for the powerful Luksic family. For this same “Forbes 100 listed South American family and certain Liechtenstein-owned U.S. entities,” Synder also handled a “$50 million unsecured loan and mortgage financing involving 14 properties in three states with attendant U.S. tax advice.”** He advised unnamed “South American investors” and a “related Lichtenstein establishment” on corporate restructuring of $72 million in real estate and other assets in six jurisdictions, including France, Panama, Peru, Massachusetts, Florida, and Colorado.

I can’t say what these loans and restructurings are all about, and whether they have any connection to the Boundary Waters reversal story I’ve been pursuing. The Colorado matter, for instance, might simply have to do with Andronico Luksic’s home in Aspen. But it’s pretty clear that these South American and Lichtensteinian matters are all Luksic Group matters. The Luksic and Fontbona families conduct much of the Luksic Group business, including their control of mining conglomerate Antofagasta, Plc, and Quinenco, S.A., an investment firm, through Lichenstein-based vehicles.

It seems unlikely, but not out of the realm of possibility, that an attorney entrusted with such grave responsibilities would overlook the simple renewal of a business license. Especially not with such high profile tenants in the mix. If this is indeed an oversight or a matter of waiting for the DCRA system to update, it will probably be corrected in the next few days. If not, it could be a signal that the Kalorama property is going to be put on the market, or transferred to some other entity, and that something else is afoot.

Update 7 March 2019. One week on, and no license renewal. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the group behind Tracy DC Real Estate, having gotten what it wanted, or all it’s going to get from this administration, no longer sees any need to keep up appearances, or pretend that the rental ever was a legitimate business arrangement. Non-renewal of the business license strongly suggests that the Kalorama mansion should be looked upon as a foreign emolument.

*Update 26 March, 2019. Still no record online of the Tracy DC Real Estate business license renewal, but the property taxes for the first half of 2019 have been paid. And on 20 March, the corporation filed a biennial report with the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. These reports are due by April 1st of each second calendar year. They appears to be keeping up with everything except the business license.

**Update 5 May 2019. This financing activity may have included the Kalorama mansion. On April 5th, 2018, Rodrigo Swett signed a Deed of Trust for 2.75M on the property at 2449 Tracy Place NW. On the same day, he signed similar instruments for multiple properties in Miami Beach and at least 7 properties in Boston’s Back Bay. That would seem to cover the “three states” (Florida, Massachusetts, and District of Columbia) to which Synder refers in his bio.

Update 9 June 2019. The business license for the mansion was renewed on 31 May, 2019, a full three months after it was allowed to expire.

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What accounts for the three month lapse? An oversight by Luksic’s lawyers seems the most likely explanation. Or maybe, after borrowing against the property in April 2018, the owners planned to change its status, then decided to stay the course.

Read other posts about the Boundary Waters reversal here

What Scott Pruitt’s Troubles Tell Us About Corruption in Kalorama

It’s tempting to draw parallels between the situation at 2449 Tracy Place NW, where Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump rent a mansion owned by Chilean mining billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig, and Scott Pruitt’s sweetheart deal to rent a bedroom in a Washington DC condo owned by the wife of powerful lobbyist Steven Hart, chairman of Williams & Jensen, for fifty dollars a night. But that will not get us very far, and it’s best not to conflate the two cases.

To begin with, Jared and Ivanka are reportedly paying market rate for their place: $15,000 / month. While no one, to my knowledge, has seen records of those monthly payments in the form of cancelled checks or electronic transfer receipts, it seems pretty safe to assume that rent is actually being collected. Doesn’t it? The corporation that owns the property, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc., was formed by Luksic’s lawyers at Duane Morris LLP in Boston, and the deal was put together by one of the Washington DC’s “top-producing” real estate agents: Cynthia Howar, who is herself a member of the bar. The lawyers, one would like to think, took care of the details.

Not so in Scott Pruitt’s case. Despite the friendly terms, Pruitt fell behind on his rental payments, according to Politico, “forcing his lobbyist landlord to pester him for payment.” Pruitt’s landlord, Vicki Hart, did not have the appropriate business license to rent out a room in her Washington, DC condo, and now faces fines of up to $2000.

In Kalorama, Tracy DC Real Estate, Inc. had obtained the business license for a one family rental from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in the District of Columbia by March of 2017. That license is good for two years, until February 28, 2019. Who can say where the first family tenants will be by then?

Of course, there is one important parallel to draw between the Pruitt case and the situation at Tracy Place. It doesn’t have to do with licenses or rental agreements or payments. It has to do with ethics — or an apparent lack of concern with ethics.

Scott Pruitt rushed an ethics review of his bedroom rental only after news stories about the deal started to appear. The review was botched, or its conclusions were forced; it’s unclear which. The EPA’s top ethics official now says he needs to revisit the matter, because he was not in full possession of the facts when he retroactively approved the arrangement. This only serves to highlight that the right time for Scott Pruitt to ask whether the rental was permissible or appropriate was before entering into it.

Much the same could be said of Jared and Ivanka’s rental of the Kalorama mansion: the lawyers may have left nothing undone, but there is still the question whether this rental agreement ought to have been struck in the first place, given the fact that the mansion’s owner — or the mining conglomerate his family controls — was suing the U.S. government over the renewal of mining leases.

Twin Metals Minnesota had already sued the United States government back in September of 2016 over lack of action on the Superior National Forest leases. When the Obama administration did act in December of 2016, denying renewal of the leases, and launching a study of a 20-year ban on sulfide mining near the Boundary Waters, it was clear Twin Metals would sue again.

This second suit was filed by Antofagasta’s subsidiaries, Twin Metals Minnesota and Franconia Minerals, on February 21, 2017, just about a week before Tracy DC Real Estate obtained its license to rent the Kalorama mansion as a one family unit. A review of the rental agreement should obviously have been undertaken by the Office of the White House Counsel, with these and other facts in view, if only to preempt scandal-mongering and dispel any appearance of impropriety.

One of the earliest reports of the rental agreement in the Wall Street Journal quotes Rob Walker, a lawyer in private practice who specializes in election law and government ethics, to the effect that “there might not be an ethics problem” as long as the mansion is being rented at fair market value. Maybe not. But I’ve been unable to find any indication that a formal ethics review of the Kalorama rental agreement was ever requested or conducted.

From Caval to Kalorama

Kalorama

The Washington, D.C. mansion rented by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

We know this much. In December of 2016, just after the election, Chilean billionaire Andronico Luksic Craig bought the Kalorama Triangle mansion that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump now rent in Washington, D.C.. Just about six months later*, records show, the Department of Interior began drafting the December 22nd, 2017 memo that would reverse Obama-era protections for the Boundary Waters and renew the lease of lands in Superior National Forest held by Twin Metals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Antofagasta Plc, the mining conglomerate controlled by the Luksic family. Headlines have hinted at corrupt dealings, as I’ve noted in previous posts, but no hard evidence has come to light.

Maybe it’s all just a happy coincidence of the kind that frequently befalls the world of billionaires, mansions, and yachts. In any case, Andronico Luksic Craig, Jared and Ivanka’s landlord, is clearly a master of such coincidences. Journalist Horacio Brum dubs him “el gran titiritero de Chile,” the great puppetmaster of Chile. He is “a man who does not need to do politics,” writes Brum, “because he makes politicians.” The role Andronico Luksic Craig played in the scandal known in Chile as “el Caso Caval” — The Caval Affair — is illustrative.

The Caval Affair involved a $10 million loan for a shady real estate scheme undertaken in late 2013 by Natalia Compagnon, the daughter-in-law of Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, and 50 percent owner of a company called Sociedad Exportadora y de Gestión Caval Limitada. El Caso Caval was a drawn out and complicated affair, and charges of corruption and influence peddling would dog Compagnon and the Bachelet family for years. Just one feature of the scandal needs to concern us at the moment, and that’s the timing of the loan itself.

In the months immediately preceding Bachelet’s election, Compagnon had been trying to secure a line of credit for her company to purchase three plots of land in Machalí, in the O’Higgins Region in central Chile. Compagnon and her husband, Sebastian Davalos Michelet, met with the Vice President of Banco de Chile to discuss the project on November 6th, 2013. This was about ten days before the elections, which were scheduled for November 17th. The loan was approved on December 16th, 2013, just a month after Michelle Bachelet was elected to the presidency. The Vice President of the Banco de Chile who made these timely financial arrangements for the daughter-in-law of the new president elect was none other than Andronico Luksic Craig.

This time-lapse illustration produced for the news organization 24 Horas lays out the whole scandal in less than three minutes. Even if your Spanish is rusty, you can follow the story. Luksic first appears around 1:26.

The pattern looks familiar. When questioned about the loan, Luksic Craig at first denied meeting the young couple more than once. (This is classic Luksic, who claims never to have met his first family tenants, and only to have said hello to Trump himself once, at a Patriots’ football game in 2012.) Only later did he admit to various meetings and contacts between him and Compagnon, including one the day after Bachelet won the election. As the scandal grew, Andronico Luksic Craig managed to retreat back into the shadows and to keep himself and the Luksic family out of the headlines.

So far, the almost daily revelations of Jared Kushner’s far-flung attempts to bail out his family’s foundering real estate empire have not turned up anything that connects Kushner’s business troubles to Chile’s Grupo Luksic or the Luksic family. But it would not be terribly surprising to learn that there is more to the Kushner story and that Kalorama mansion than Luksic Craig claims. The president’s son-in-law is a quo looking for a quid, and when it comes to making that sort of delicate arrangement, Andronico Luksic Craig appears to be a real pro.

*Since writing this post, I have reviewed documents obtained through FOIA request that show the Department of the Interior working on the reversal of Obama administration protections for the Boundary Waters as early as February, 2017, just weeks after the inauguration.