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  1. Florida Politics

Report: Commerce head has stake in firm tied to Putin orbit

NEW YORK — Newly leaked documents show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration's point man on trade and manufacturing policy, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to records obtained by the International Consortium of Journalists, Ross is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping giant that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers. Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov once owned more than 20 percent of the company, but now holds a much smaller stake.

Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas said Ross "never met" Shamalov and has generally supported the Trump administration's sanctions against Russia, according to the ICIJ report. He added that Ross has withdrawn from matters related to transoceanic shipping vessels and has met the "highest ethical standards."

The details are likely to add to the questions about ties between Russia and the Trump administration, connections that for months have shadowed the White House and are a focus of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Yet it wasn't immediately clear how many partners Ross might have or what the profit-sharing agreement might be.

ICIJ disclosed the Ross holding as part of reporting on 13.4 million records of offshore entities in tax havens leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper then shared the records with ICIJ and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries. The New York Times is its U.S. partner in this inquiry.

It wasn't immediately clear exactly how much of Navigator, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, that Ross personally owns. Sibur contributed 8 percent to Navigator's revenue last year, according to reports filed with securities regulators. Russia's energy sector is largely controlled by individuals with ties to state actors, including Putin.

Much of the new trove of files includes bank statements, emails and loan agreements from Appleby, a law firm that helps set up offshore dummy companies and trusts. Appleby told the ICIJ that there is "no evidence" that it has done anything wrong.

Sibur itself was not targeted by the U.S. sanctions, but the Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Scotland reportedly backed away from doing business with the company.

The Russian gas producer last year contributed $23 million to Navigator's revenue, an increase of more than 40 percent in two years.

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