Leaked Documents Tie Trump Administration Officials to Suspicious Business Deals In Russia
The United States’ Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. failed to disclose his investment in a shipping firm with close ties to Vladimir Putin’s immediate family, according to leaked documents released November 5.
A group of investigative journalists from a variety of news sources published the group of documents, now called the “paradise papers,” which show Ross has financial ties with the shipping giant Navigator Industries. The papers also revealed the tax evasion of numerous high profile figures and companies from the Queen of England to Nike.
The details of Ross’ investment come from leaks in the highly secretive wealth management firm, Appleby, which has helped some of the richest world figures lower their taxes, often through unscrupulous means.
The files mention other officials in the Trump administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chief Economic Advisor Gary D. Cohen, each of whom had hidden wealth in Bermuda through dealings with Appleby. Though frowned upon, the actions taken by these two figures were not actually illegal, but nonetheless have drawn controversy to the already scandal-embattled White House.
The dealings of Mr. Ross have come under fire because they once again link the Trump administration to dealings with high level Russian figures. Navigator Holdings makes most of its profits by shipping oil and gas from Sibur, a large Russian energy firm. Sibur is owned by many Russian oligarchs, including the son in law of Vladimir Putin himself. Numerous Russian billionaires who have holdings in Sibur are the subject of American sanctions, including its chief manager Gennady Timchenko.
The Commerce Secretary, in response to the allegations of working with corrupt Russian figures, has said that no wrongdoing has occurred. In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Ross claimed that his dealings with Navigator Holdings were, “disclosed on form 278, which is the financial disclosure form, in my case, three times.” He also accused major media outlets of “trying to find anything they can, however remote or silly, to attack the President and somehow link him to Russia.”
Spokesmen and lawyers for Ross have repeatedly said that his major investment in Navigator came before the company began working with Sibur, meaning that he bears no responsibility for their actions.
Despite the repeated denials, the leaked papers have provided evidence that Mr. Ross did not properly reveal the scope of his stake in Navigator Holdings.
On government ethics forms, the commerce secretary claimed that his investments in the company were between $2 million and $10 million. What was not revealed was that Mr. Ross, through a complicated series of hidden accounts, controlled over one-third of the company, which had a net worth of $179 million and took in more than $20 million in profits from its dealings with Sibur alone.
This is not the first time Mr. Ross has had dealings with Russian companies. Most notably, he helped bail out the national bank of Cyprus after a major economic crash in 2013. The Cypriot bank was tied to Russia through the numerous oligarchs who stashed their wealth in it to avoid taxation. Mr. Ross, working alongside Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, helped to offer a buyout to these wealthy Russians, saving their money and preventing the bank from collapsing. Vekselberg has worked closely with Vladimir Putin and has contributed to efforts that may have resulted in the stealing of American technology and industry secrets.
The suspicious behavior of Mr. Ross has caused many outside of the Trump administration to call for an investigation into his dealings. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) spoke about Mr. Ross and said, “there ought to be hearings and if he fails to provide a convincing and compelling argument, he ought to resign,” on MSNBC.
Secretary Ross has refused to even consider resigning, considering any idea of it, “a silly question,” per his interview on CNBC.