The United States Air Force is investigating nearly $1 billion in land purchases from unknown investors near a California Air Force base.
But after eight months of digging, they have been unable to uncover the investors behind the deal, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing sources familiar with the matter.
The group known as Flannery Associates has bought up nearly 52,000 acres of agricultural land in California, including areas near Travis Air Force Base, sparking concerns of foreign influence that lead to the Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office’s probe, according to the WSJ.
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Flannery maintains it is majority American-owned, with the remaining 3% of invested capital originating from Ireland and Britain, but local authorities, lawmakers, and federal agencies continue to probe the opaque company.
“Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base” is unfounded, an attorney for the firm told the WSJ.
In the last five years, the outlet reported that Flannery has become the largest landowner in Solano County, citing county officials and public records.
Flannery told Solano County it “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States,” according to the WSJ.
“We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area,” Democratic California Rep. John Garamendi, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness group whose district includes the area where Flannery is buying land, told the outlet. “The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.”
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Garamendi and Democratic California Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district is also implicated, have asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to open a probe into the land acquisitions, according to the WSJ. CFIUS involves advisors from multiple federal agencies who have the power to review and block foreign acquisitions deemed threatening to national security.
In addition, the Department of Agriculture is looking into Flannery’s investors, the WSJ reported, citing correspondence.
According to the WSJ, Flannery claimed ownership of several parcels, including wind turbines, and most are in unincorporated parts of Solano County set aside for agriculture.
At least 20 surround Travis AFB, known as the “Gateway to the Pacific” and home to a unit that facilitates global U.S. military transport.
Travis’ commander and other Air Force officers “are aware of the multiple land purchases near the base and are actively working internally and externally with other agencies,” a spokesperson told the WSJ.
Solano county officials have also grown concerned but have not been able to identify any of Flannery’s owners, county administrator Bill Emlen told the WSJ.
“I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment,” county supervisor Mitch Mashburn said, noting that Flannery has not made any attempt to engage with local authorities for development.
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