US probes $1 billion land purchases near military base – WSJ
US authorities have launched an investigation into a series of land acquisitions amounting to nearly $1 billion near a major military base in California, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, citing anonymous officials.
According to the report, over the past five years, investment group Flannery Associates has purchased approximately 22,000 hectares of land in Solano County, California, including parcels with wind turbines. Much of the land it purchased borders Travis Air Force base, which houses large military aircraft from the US Air Mobility Command used for transporting military personnel and supplies.
The company has spent around $800 million on the land and is regarded as the largest landowner in the county.
Flannery is registered in the state of Delaware, and as such does not have to publicly disclose information about its owners. However, the acquisitions have raised questions as to the owners’ origins and their intentions for the land. According to the WSJ, investigations into Flannery have been ongoing for eight months, and have so far failed to identify those behind it.
“We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area. The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions,” Congressman John Garamendi, the ranking Democrat on the US House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel, told the WSJ.
Garamendi and another California congressman, Democrat Mike Thompson, have asked for an investigation into the acquisitions by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS). The panel can advise the US government to block foreign acquisitions for security concerns.
An attorney for Flannery told the news outlet that the company is controlled by US citizens and that 97% of its capital comes from US investors, while the rest comes from the UK and Ireland. He did not provide further details regarding the owners’ and investors’ identities, but stated that “any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base is unfounded.”
The WSJ notes that over the years, Flannery has tabled a number of plans regarding the use of the purchased land, from renewable energy and related projects to farming “new types of crops or orchards,” and leasing it to olive growers.
However, county supervisor Mitch Mashburn told the WSJ that most of the purchased land is dry farmland, and he doubts “that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”
The authorities have so far been unable to confirm or deny Flannery’s statement that it is US-owned, a congressional aide told the WSJ. However, if CFIUS, which is led by the Treasury Department, takes up the case, it could be granted authority to order Flannery to reveal more information about its owners, the news outlet reported.
For more stories on economy & finance visit RT's business section