Wilbur Ross Divests of Foreign Ships
U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross Sells Shipping Interests after Tie to Putin is Revealed
Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, came under scrutiny after it was discovered he had investments in a shipping company that included a client with ties to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s inner circle along with a business leader with U.S. sanctions. His shipping interests include shipping firm Navigator Holdings, which counts Sibur, a Russian gas company, among its top clients.
The information came from the “Paradise Papers,” documents that were leaked by Appleby, an offshore law firm. In addition to showing the connection between Ross, Navigator, and Sibur, the papers also detail business dealings with other wealthy persons and institutions.
While Ross has already sold off his holdings to Diamond S Shipping, his other shipping interest, he remains in the process of selling off his investments in Navigator Holdings. However, he told Bloomberg Television that he is not doing this because of ethical and legal questions that have been directed at him.
He further stated there is no conflict of interest and that “we don’t regulate shipping.”
Legal and Ethical Questions
When Ross filed a government ethics disclosure after he was nominated as Secretary of Commerce, he disclosed the fact that he had an investment in Navigator and that the investment was up to $10 million. However, the disclosure did not include information on the tie to Sibur or Sibur’s connection to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
The ethics agreement with Ross also didn’t stipulate that he had to relinquish his claim in Diamond S Shipping. Additionally, no shipping matters had been presented to the Commerce Department, making it unnecessary for him to give up his holdings. However, the agreement did state Ross would remove himself from issues involving the shipping companies that he held assets in.
It is still unclear what legal or ethical wrongdoing, if any, has taken place. However, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal (D), stated: “In concealing his interest in these shipping companies — and his ongoing financial relationship with Russian oligarchs — Secretary Ross misled me, the Senate Commerce Committee, and the American people.”
Ross was also questioned about the holdings during his confirmation hearing in January by Washington Senator Maria Cantwell (D). Only issues about cybersecurity and attacks on U.S. companies were addressed during the hearing.
The Commerce Department, in an unattributed statement, said Ross was unaware who owned the Russian company and has removed himself from the shipping matters. Ross initially began divesting himself of his Navigator Holdings in May and is, according to the Trump administration “…nearing completion of that process.”