Millions of offshore files and records recently have been leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, and then shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several other media outlets.
The leak comes from Appleby, a law firm and corporate services provider based in Bermuda, and is dubbed the Paradise Papers. It has only just begun to shine a light on the massive and complex world of offshore transactions, an effort begun previously under the Panama Papers.
The first name to come out of the Paradise Papers leak is Trump administration Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a 79–year–old billionaire and Trump friend. According to several news organizations, Ross is in business with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son–in–law and two other Russian oligarchs through a shipping venture called Navigator Holdings.
According to The Guardian, Ross has a stake in Navigator through several offshore investments. Navigator, in turn, works with a Russian gas company partly owned by Kirill Shamalov, the husband of Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova. Ross’s stake in Navigator is held in the Cayman Islands, The New York Times reported.
While reporting is still early and nothing illegal has yet been discovered, Ross’s involvement with these companies raises huge ethical questions, particularly because none of the links were discussed when he was confirmed by the Senate. Also, as commerce secretary, Ross’s job is to shape U.S. trade policy with Russia, including any sanctions.
“The relationship means that he stands to benefit from the operations of a Russian company run by Putin’s family and close allies, some of whom are under US sanctions,” The Guardian wrote.
The question now is whether Ross has done anything to undermine Russian sanctions, analysts said on Sunday.
They also noted that Ross made a significant effort to make it appear that he was divesting of his many companies during the January confirmation process for the commerce secretary post. In reality, it appears that he was hiding important offshore arrangements from ethics officials, seemingly right under their noses. Lawmakers vetting Ross’s nomination for commerce secretary relied on the ethics officials to ensure that divestment of his companies had raised no red flags.
The lists of companies Ross intended to keep and those he would divest of were intentionally vague, Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, told NBC News.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from CT, told NBC he is “astonished and appalled” at the revelations, and he believes the congressional committee was misled.
Two other Russian oligarchs linked to Navigator—both on the U.S. Treasury Department’s sanctions list and directly linked to Putin—are Gennady Timchenko and Leonid Mikhelson, NBC reported.
The Paradise Papers leak included some 13.4 million files. More stories are expected to emerge as news organizations pore over the material.