US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose name cropped up in the “Paradise Papers” investigation into offshore tax havens, said the appropriate authorities knew of his controversial investments, a media report said. Ross told CNBC in an interview on Monday that the claim that he tried to keep his relationship with the Venezuelan oil firm hidden is “totally wrong” and that he filled out in triplicate the documentation requested by the US Office of Government Ethics to disclose his business interests, Efe news reported. According to the investigation undertaken by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reported on Sunday, Ross failed to fully disclose to Congress his investment interest in a shipping firm with close ties to people linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and also investments in Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA.
Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Russian magnate Gennady Timchenko, one of Putin’s inner circle who has been sanctioned by Washington for his activities linked to the Russian leader, are two of the owners of Sibur, a company that has provided more than $68 million to Navigator in the last three year. “A company not under sanction is just like any other company, period. It was a normal commercial relationship and one that I had nothing to do with the creation of, and do not know the shareholders who were apparently sanctioned at some later point in time.” When asked if he had considered resigning because of the fact that these controversial holdings have come to light, Ross said that was a “silly question” since he had done “nothing wrong”. The Paradise Papers are a trove of millions of documents leaked to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which then called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to examine them, that show huge amounts of cash held in offshore tax havens by leaders, magnates and celebrities all over the world.
The Department of Commerce initially said in a statement on Sunday that Ross “was not involved with Navigator’s decision to engage in business with SIBUR, a publicly-traded company, which was not under sanction at the time and is not currently”. “Moreover, Secretary Ross has never met the Sibur shareholders referenced in this story and, until now, did not know of their relationship,” the statement said. “The Secretary recuses himself from matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been supportive of the Administration’s sanctions against Russian and other entities.”