Mississippi gives huge tax break to hotel tied to Trump company

2018-02-23 15:18
Suresh Chawla of Chawla Hotels is seen in New York, at a launch event for four new Trump hotels being built in Mississippi. (Kathy Willens, AP, file)

Suresh Chawla of Chawla Hotels is seen in New York, at a launch event for four new Trump hotels being built in Mississippi. (Kathy Willens, AP, file)

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Jackson - Mississippi has granted a tax break worth just over $6m to a hotel developer affiliated with the Trump Organization.

Mississippi Development Authority spokesperson Jeff Rent confirmed on Thursday that the agency's board approved the tourism tax rebate on Wednesday for a hotel in Cleveland, Mississippi. The state offers developers a rebate of up to 30% of their investment.

The Scion at West End Hotel is being built by Chawla Pointe LLC, a Mississippi-based, family-run hotel company whose CEO is Dinesh Chawla.

US President Donald Trump's company announced a deal with the Chawla family in June as part of the rollout of two new hotel chains, drawing complaints from ethics experts about potential conflicts of interest.

Republican Governor Phil Bryant is a Trump supporter, and appeared with him at the White House during a recent discussion of infrastructure funding.

'Ethical businessperson'

Bryant also oversees the Mississippi Development Authority and appoints its director. Bryant's spokesperson, Clay Chandler, said the hotel project received no special treatment.

"Mr Chawla's project has been in the works since before the presidential election," Chandler said on Thursday.

"He followed the same process as the other tourism rebate applicants. State law guides the application process, and state law alone will determine if any application is approved."

Approval of the tax rebate was first reported by the New York Times.

Chawla could not immediately be reached on Thursday. He told The Associated Press in a February 9 interview that he sees nothing wrong with his company applying for tax breaks.

"I'm not a legal scholar, but I'm an ethical businessperson," Chawla said. "I don't toss the word 'Trump' around. I don't ask anyone for favours."

Rent said about 25 projects in the past several years have been approved for tax rebates under the Mississippi Tourism Incentive Program.

The Mississippi Development Authority Board on Wednesday also approved about $4.1m in rebates for an entertainment complex that will be built in Jackson. Rent said decisions about the tax rebates are straightforward.

"You either qualify or you don't," Rent said.

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