WASHINGTON – Steven Mnuchin, who was treasury secretary in the Trump administration, is planning to start an investment fund that is expected to raise money from sovereign wealth funds in the Persian Gulf region and other investors, two people familiar with the project said.
The fund, based in Washington, would focus on areas including financial technology and entertainment, the people said. Mnuchin, who worked as a Wall Street executive and film producer before joining the Trump administration, has begun hiring for the endeavor. The people familiar with the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss planning that has not been made public.
The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia control some of the region’s largest investment funds, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, which tracks these types of funds.
Mnuchin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mnuchin frequently traveled to the Middle East as treasury secretary, most often in relation to the department’s mandate to fight terrorism financing abroad. In the waning weeks of the Trump administration, as Washington reeled from the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and questions swirled around whether Trump’s Cabinet would try to remove him from power, Mnuchin was on a diplomatic swing through the Middle East and Africa, visiting Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. He had planned to visit Kuwait, but he cut the trip short in the aftermath of the riot.
Mnuchin also visited the region in October to promote commercial ties in the wake of the Abraham Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and several Arab states. Mnuchin and Jared Kushner, former president Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, helped put together the Bahrain conference in 2019 that led to the Abraham Accords.
Mnuchin traveled to Saudi Arabia and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in October 2018, even as the Saudi royal was widely suspected of ordering the brutal killing weeks earlier of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The CIA later concluded that Mohammed ordered the assassination.
Trump supported the crown prince, viewing Saudi Arabia and allied states including the United Arab Emirates as crucial partners in an effort to counter Iran in the region. Trump blocked congressional efforts to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia and pushed through an arms sale to the UAE despite bipartisan opposition in Congress.
It is unclear whether Mnuchin will seek funds from the Saudi or UAE governments. His planned investment effort comes so soon after leaving office that it raises concerns over whether Trump administration policy was influenced by Mnuchin’s future pursuits, an ethics expert said.
“The fact that there were policies that were favorable to countries that now might benefit him in a business matter is troubling, and does raise questions about whether even the prospect of future business interests might have impacted decision-making, even if there were no specific plans in place,” said Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group.
Following in the footsteps of other former senior government officials, Mnuchin has put himself on the speaking circuit since leaving the Treasury Department, and he plans to charge $250,000 to speak in person, Bloomberg News reported last week.
Mnuchin’s successor, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, earned more than $7 million in speaking fees over two years from major banks and corporations, according to her financial disclosure form.