Trump commerce secretary’s business links with Putin family laid out in leaked files

The offshore commerce secretary

Under the Navigator-Sibur deal, two ships – the Navigator Libra and the Navigator Leo – began moving Sibur gas from the Russian port of Ust-Luga, west of St Petersburg, to Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe. The partnership doubled to four ships this year, as Ross joined Trump’s administration. Invited to name the new vessels, Sibur christened them Navigator Luga and Navigator Yauza, after Russian rivers.

Corporate records show that the proportion of Navigator’s revenue coming from Sibur almost doubled between 2014 and 2015, even as Sibur’s owners complained of being shut out of financial markets due to sanctions.

Sibur has also received assistance from the Kremlin while dealing with Ross’s firm. In May 2014, a Russian government fund led a $700m investment in the Ust-Luga port, where Sibur has exclusive rights to ship liquefied gas. In December 2015, Sibur received a $1.75bn state loan repayable at a third of the market rate.

Rockas, Ross’s press secretary, tried to distance Ross from the Sibur deal with a series of statements that were contradicted by other sources. He said the Navigator-Sibur deal was signed in February 2012, before Ross joined the Navigator board. But Sibur’s annual report for that year said the deal was signed in March.

Rockas said Ross did not join Navigator’s board until 31 March 2012. But a press release filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission on 2 March that year said Ross was by then already on the board. In ethics forms filed this year, Ross estimated that his start date had been January 2012.

Rockas said: “No funds managed by WL Ross & Co ever owned a majority of Navigator shares.” But a press release issued by the company in August 2012 was titled “WL Ross Agrees To Acquire Majority Stake In Navigator”.

Navigator vessels also carried out extensive business with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, records show, at a time when Venezuela’s government was cracking down on opposition. Trump imposed sanctions on PDVSA in August.

Rockas said Ross “has been generally supportive of the administration’s sanctions of Russian and Venezuelan entities.” He said Ross had never met Shamalov, Timchenko or Mikhelson.

The Paradise Papers detail a complex web of dozens of offshore investments that have been held by Ross, who publicly champions Trump’s campaign promise to “bring back” business to the US. Many use similar names and acronyms that are difficult to decipher.

The files show, for instance, that Ross is a shareholder in WLR Recovery Associates IV DSS AIV GP, a Cayman Islands investment vehicle. This is a shareholder and general partner of WLR Recovery Associates IV DSS AIV LP, another Cayman Islands entity, which is in turn a general partner of WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV LP, a third Cayman firm, which is a shareholder in Navigator.

The WLR stake in Navigator is now worth about $179m, according to corporate filings, but it is not clear how much of this is held by Ross personally. When he joined the Trump administration, Ross declared holdings worth up to $10m in vehicles with interests in Navigator.

In a letter to the commerce department and Office of Government Ethics before taking office this year, Ross said he was retaining his interest in a handful of entities, including two that hold stakes in Navigator. The letter said some retained interests related to shipping but did not detail whether this included the subsidiaries that led to Navigator.

At the end of May, Ross sold a small holding in Navigator worth $15,000-$50,000, according to an ethics filing. But he appeared to retain other Navigator stakes.

Ross was not asked about his links to Putin’s family during his confirmation hearing by the US Senate. Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel in George W Bush’s administration, said Ross had not made absolutely clear in his paperwork that he was retaining a stake in Navigator. “It is very difficult to figure out from the financial disclosure,” said Painter. “He should have sold off any and all interests.”