UAE property tycoon withdraws from sanctions-hit Belarus, collaborates with Kushner

By David Gauthier-Villars and Aram Roston

(Reuters) - The Emirati real estate developer behind Dubai's signature skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, has initiated the sale of property assets he owns in Belarus, a country targeted by Western sanctions, according to two people familiar with the matter, as he collaborates with Jared Kushner on a possible investment in Serbia.

Mohamed Alabbar, the Emirati real estate tycoon, has reached a preliminary agreement to sell his interests in a multi-billion-dollar property development in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, through his Symphony Global Holdings investment vehicle, the people familiar with the matter said.

The Emirati developer's departure from Belarus comes amid a new collaboration with Kushner, the son-in-law of former U.S. President Donald Trump, to redevelop a former Yugoslav army headquarters building in Serbia into a residential complex.

Their collaboration has not been previously reported.

Contacted by Reuters, Alabbar declined to answer questions about the identity of the prospective buyer nor discuss the reasons for the decision to sell the Minsk assets.

Regarding Serbia, the Emirati billionaire said he "looked at collaborations with Kushner positively" and was "very excited about more high-end development in the market". He did not elaborate on what the partnership would entail.

Kushner told Reuters last month he was in talks over investing in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, to transform the army building, but said the deal was in negotiations and might not happen.

A person familiar with Kushner's plans in Serbia said Alabbar was involved in the redevelopment as an advisor and it was too early to say whether the Emirati would also invest in it. The person declined to comment on Alabbar's activities in Belarus.

Reuters could not determine who has proposed to buy Alabbar's interests in the Minsk development, known as North Waterfront, nor the terms of the preliminary deal.

While Minsk is not at war with Kyiv, Belarus's President Alexander Lukashenko has allowed Russian troops to use its territory to launch attacks on Ukraine. The United States has adopted a series of sanctions against Belarus for aiding Russia’s war, prohibiting U.S. citizens from doing business with Lukashenko and some members of his entourage.

Lukashenko was personally involved in the North Waterfront project, kicking off the development with a May 2021 decree calling for the creation of a vast residential complex along water reservoirs in northern Minsk, and assigning the lead role to one of Alabbar's companies.

A spokesperson for Lukashenko said Alabbar's preliminary sale agreement was "news to the president".

Kushner’s plans to invest in Serbia surfaced in mid-March when an opposition lawmaker, Aleksandar Jovanovic, released documents showing Serbian authorities had prepared the ground for a real estate partnership with the American businessman. Serbia's President, Aleksandar Vucic, confirmed a partnership was under discussion.

Asked by Reuters last month if the Belgrade project had been facilitated by connections he made during his time as a Trump advisor in the White House, Kushner said: “No one is 'giving' me special deals.”

(Reporting by David Gauthier-Villars in Istanbul and Aram Roston in Washington; additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Daniel Flynn)