Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business connections to Russian president's family

Nov 6, 2017

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to an energy firm owned by associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to documents leaked from Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm.

Secretary Ross was confirmed by the Senate in February 2017. Before that, he disclosed that he owns a stake in a shipping company called Navigator Holdings. What he didn't say was that Navigator does millions of dollars a year in business with Sibur, a Russian energy company that has close ties to Putin. Sibur is part-owned by Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law, and by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of Putin's who was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2014, when Russia seized Crimea from the Ukraine.

The Commerce Department said Ross wasn’t involved in the decision to do business with Sibur.

In an interview with the BBC this morning, Ross said there's "nothing whatsoever improper" about about the shipping firm, Navigator, having a relationship with Sibur. He pointed out that Sibur hasn't been sanctioned by the U.S. government. “If our government decided to sanction them, that would be a different story," he said, adding that “the fact that it happens to be called a Russian company does not mean that there's any evil in it.”

Ross doesn’t appear to have broken any laws.

Ross's business connections were revealed as part of an extensive document dump of more than 13 million documents that are being called the Paradise Papers. The documents show how global companies, billionaires, and government officials are using offshore accounts in tax havens like Bermuda to pay lower taxes. Offshore accounts are legal if you follow certain rules.

The papers offer a peek into the financial dealings of well-known people and companies.

Some names mentioned in the papers: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the president’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, and foreign officials, like Queen Elizabeth II, who invests more than 10 million pounds in offshore accounts. 

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