Wilbur Ross under fire in Paradise Papers "revelations"

Wilbur Ross under fire in Paradise Papers "revelations" BBC

NOVEMBER 6, 2017 — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is finding himself at the center of a row that involves "revelations" that will hardly prove startling to those familiar with how international shipping works.

German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has obtained a vast batch of financial documents, called the Paradise Papers, leaked from firms including Bermuda law firm Appleby and turned them over to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

Among the various documents to come to light are some showing that Secretary Ross holds a substantial stake in Navigator Holdings, one of the world's largest operators of gas tankers. This is not exactly a secret to Marine Log readers. And it shouldn't surprise anyone else, either, because Secretary Ross included this interest in the financial disclosure forms he filed this year.

Navigator Holdings being a gas tanker operator and Russia being a major gas exporter, guess what? Navigator has been hauling cargoes for Russian customers.

Reportedly, one of these, called Sibur, contributed 8% to Navigator's revenues last year. That's not that big a secret, either. Navigator is a listed company and the information was included in its SEC filings.

Sibur is not subject to U.S. sanctions.

What is somewhat more interesting is that, according to media reports, Vladmir Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov holds 3.9% stake in Sibur. While Kirill Shamalov is not on the list of persons subject to U.S. sanctions, his father, Nikolai, is. Two other major Sibur shareholders are under some form of U.S. sanctions. They are Gennady Timchenko, who has been individually sanctioned by the United States, in addition to a number of companies connected to him. Leonid Mikhelson, whose main company, Novatek, is also sanctioned, is another major shareholder.

What does Secretary Ross have to say about all this? Following are excerpts from the transcript of an interview he gave to Geoff Cutmore of CNBC today.

GC: let me start off straight away by asking you to deal with these allegations that you concealed your position in Navigator from the U.S. committee that had to ratify you as commerce secretary.

WR: Right well, that's totally wrong. It was disclosed on the form 278, which is the financial disclosure form in my case three times,, and as well as on the public website of the Office of Government Ethics, namely oge.gov so it's totally incorrect.

GC: So when Senator Blumenthal says you misled the committee by not revealing Navigator's relationship with the Russian company Sibur, you completely reject that allegation?

WR: Well, that's a different question. My obligation is to disclose companies in which I'm an officer, a director or an investor. I am neither an officer, nor a director nor an investor in Sibur. Fact, I've never met them, don't know the people, have nothing to do with the negotiation of the charter arrangement. The only commercial arrangement between Navigator and Sibur is a charter arrangement. That charter arrangement was made when Sibur was not under sanctions and, frankly, Sibur is not under sanctions to this very day. So, in fact, there's nothing wrong with Navigator having a commercial relationship with Sibur.

GC: Are you concerned, Mr. Secretary, that in people's minds they may conflate the ongoing Mueller investigation into links with Russia so this revelation that you had holdings in a company that has dealings with a Russian business and they weren't disclosed until only now with the release of the paradise papers.

WR: But that's not true. The Sibur relationship was known before. There's nothing in the Paradise Papers that's unique about the charter arrangement with Sibur.

You can see an interview that Secretary Ross gave the BBC HERE


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