Wilbur Ross (pictured) has retained stake in Russian shipping company despite possible conflict of interest for Trump Administration

Developments on Day 290 of the Trump Administration:

Revelation Adds to Questions Over Trump-Russia Ties

Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump’s billionaire Commerce Secretary, has a shared business interest with the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Documents in the Paradise Papers, 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens, establish that Ross’s partnerships holds a 31% stake in the Russian shipping company Navigator
through a chain of offshore investments in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

Navigator in turn has a lucrative partnership with Sibur, a Russian gas company part-owned by Kirill Shamalov, the husband of Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova. Another leading owner is Gennady Timchenko, Putin’s friend and judo partner, who is subject to US sanctions.

Ross retained the stake after becoming Commerce Secretary in January. He has told the office overseeing ethics that he was keeping two holding companies, but did not specify if he would maintain his interest in Navigator and its operations.

James Rockas, a spokesman for Ross, said the Commerce Secretary has never met the Russians who are Sibur’s major shareholders. He said that “Sibur was not under sanctions at the time the contract was signed and is still not subject to sanctions and that Ross “recuses himself from any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities”.

Ross has already been linked with Russian entities through his role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus. In 2015, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to Russian banker and consultant Artem Avetisyan, who has ties to both Putin and Russia’s largest bank Sberbank — sanctioned by the US after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ross sat on the senior leadership team of Bank of Cyprus alongside Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB colleague of Putin’s. Transactions through the bank involved Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman who has now been indicted for financial matters including millions of dollars from ties with a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

Ross resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board after he was confirmed as Commerce Secretary.

A Relationship Since 2011

Ross’s involvement with Putin’s son-in-law Shamalov dates to 2011, when Ross’s investement firm WL Ross began buying into Navigator and Shamalov began investing in Sibur. Ross bought a further $110 million stake in 2012. At the end of the year, Navigator went public on the New York Stock Exchange, with Ross proclaiming to a convention that his firm had hit “a home run” by taking over Navigator.

Shamalov borrowed $1.3 billion from the State-controlled Gazpromback — whose deputy chairman is his brother Yuri Shamalov — to increase his holding in Sibur in September 2014.

Ross was not asked about his links to Putin’s family during his confirmation hearing by the Senate, perhaps because of a lack of clarity in his financial disclosure.

Between November 2016 and January 2017, Ross moved assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off his disclosure.

Navigator was mentioned in a 57-page description of Ross’s holdings for the year that ended in December 2016, but there was no indication of its ties with the gas company Sibur, Shamalov, and Timchenko.