Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday that there is “nothing whatsoever improper” about the relationship between an international shipping company he holds significant investments in and a Russian energy company whose owners include an oligarch subject to U.S. sanctions and a family member of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Disclosure documents previously filed by Ross show that the commerce secretary holds an investment worth between $2 million and $10 million in partnerships that have a stake in Navigator Holdings, the shipping company, according to The New York Times. Navigator earns millions every year, the Times reported, via business with Sibur, a Russian energy company whose owners include Gennady Timchenko, a friend of Putin’s who is subject to U.S. sanctions, and Kirill Shamalov, Putin’s son-in-law.
“There’s nothing whatsoever improper about Navigator having a relationship with Sibur,” Ross said in an interview with BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed. “The fact that [Sibur] happens to be called a Russian company does not mean there’s any evil in it.”
Ross’ comments to Ahmed were published on the BBC editor’s Twitter feed. Details of the commerce secretary’s business relationship with Navigator and the Russia links were first revealed over the weekend in the Paradise Papers, a leak of documents connected to an offshore law firm.
A Ross spokesman said Sunday that the commerce secretary had never met the Sibur owners in question and that he had recused himself from all related matters.
But some lawmakers said Ross misled them by not fully disclosing the relationship between Navigator and Russian figures, especially in light of concerns that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election to help get President Donald Trump elected.
“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,” Sen. Richard Blumethal (D-Conn.) said in a statement on Sunday. “Secretary Ross’ financial disclosures are like a Russian nesting doll, with blatant conflicts of interest carefully hidden within seemingly innocuous holding companies.”
In the interview with the BBC, Ross hit back at the accusations.
“If our government decided to sanction [Sibur], that would be a different story,” Ross said. “Our government has not made the determination to sanction them [Sibur], so there’s nothing wrong with that. Where there is evil, is the misstatement that I did not disclose those holdings in my original form.”
Other Democrats seized on the Paradise Papers revelations to target Republicans’ tax reform proposals. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in a joint statement released Monday, said the GOP plan would bolster, not reform, the type of financial maneuvers laid out in the Paradise Papers while punishing Americans who take advantage of more conventional tax deductions.
“By failing to close the egregious loopholes outlined in the Paradise papers, the Republican plan rewards wealthy billionaires like Secretary Wilbur Ross for dodging taxes, while punishing many in the middle class with new tax hikes,” the lawmakers wrote. “The revelations in the Paradise papers are proof positive that the Republican tax plan favors the wealthy and betrays the middle class in this country, who are the ones left carrying the financial burden of massive corporate tax avoidance.”
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