A company suspected of being linked to Communist China that bought over 50,000 acres of land near a California Air Force base is suing farmers, claiming they inflated the cost of the sale.
Flannery Associates has spent roughly $800 million on land around Travis Air Force base, northeast of San Francisco. The company is suing farmers for $510 million, accusing them of forming a “secret conspiracy to drive up prices to supracompetitive levels by eliminating free market competition” and violating federal and state law by conspiring to inflate the land’s purchase price. Flannery said it has emails amounting to a “smoking gun” detailing the alleged conspiracy.
But California Democrat John Garamendi, who has been criticizing the land acquisitions since 2018, suspects something illicit at work. He told NewsNation that he has spoken with farmers who said they didn’t want to sell their land.
“It’s a suit designed to force the farmers to lawyer up, spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyering and maybe at the end of the day, bankrupt themselves,” Garamendi said. “In fact, that has happened to at least one family that I know of and I’ve heard rumors that another family simply said we can’t afford the lawyers.”
“An attorney representing Flannery said it is controlled by U.S. citizens and that 97% of its invested capital comes from U.S. investors, with the remaining 3% from British and Irish investors,” The Wall Street Journal reported. But the Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office, which has investigating the purchases for eight months, could not confirm who is funding the group.
“We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area,” Garamendi said. “The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.”
“The fact they chose to buy all three sides of the Travis Air Force Base even raises immediate questions about national security,” Garamendi told News Nation. “So, is this Chinese money? We don’t know, but we do know that the Chinese money was being used in North Dakota and we have a very deep suspicion, given the amount of money, given the lack of attention to values, that they simply want to acquire all of this land.”
“Nobody can figure out who they are,” stated Ronald Kott, mayor of Rio Vista, which is mostly circumscribed by land Flannery has bought. “Whatever they’re doing — this looks like a very long-term play.”
Earlier this year, the people of North Dakota saw a Chinese plan for opening a corn mill near a sensitive military base and took matters into their own hands, blocking the project.
The Grand Forks City Council, aware that the U.S. military did not have jurisdiction to kill the project, voted unanimously in February to block Chinese food producer Fufeng Group from building the mill only 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. In spring 2022 three North Dakotans sold the land for millions of dollars; the town’s mayor, Brandon Bochenski, pointed out that the proposed $700 million plant would create more than 200 jobs but also admitted there were national security concerns.
“The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) considered an October 2022 filing by the Fufeng Group to acquire certain assets in the vicinity of Grand Forks, North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base is the center of military activities related to both air and space operations,” U.S. Air Force Assistant Secretary Andrew P. Hunter warned North Dakota senators John Hoeven and Kevin Cramer in January.
“While CFIUS concluded that it did not have jurisdiction, the Department’s view is unambiguous: the proposed project represents a significant threat to national security with both near and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area,” he added.
“With regard to Fufeng, if you’re going to strategically decouple, that means we don’t want their investment,” Cramer said last June.