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Paradise Papers could cause Trump more headaches

The newly leaked documents about offshore accounts could add to President Trump’s Russia problems as he continues to face allegations he has contested unsuccessfully.

world Updated: Nov 06, 2017 22:13 IST
Yashwant Raj
US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents. There is no suggestion that Ross acted illegally.
US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents. There is no suggestion that Ross acted illegally. (AFP File)

Newly leaked documents about offshore accounts have reportedly revealed previously undisclosed links of members of President Donald Trump’s administration to businesses owned by people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin or backed by the Russian government.

The so-called Paradise Papers could add to President Trump’s Russia problems as he continues to face allegations, which he has contested unsuccessfully, that his campaign colluded with Russia in the 2016 elections. A probe by special counsel Robert Mueller announced its first indictments last week.

The New York Times, which accessed the documents as a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that looked at them, has reported that the documents showed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has retained financial interests through offshore investments in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings.

Sibur, a Russian oil and gas company owned by people close to President Putin including his son-in-law, was one of Navigator’s biggest clients. Other owners included Putin’s associate Gennady Timchenko, who is under US sanctions, and Leonid Mikhelson, whose company Novatek is under sanctions. The son-in-law is Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin’s youngest daughter and is not subject to sanctions.

Ross, a private equity fund investor and banker, had disclosed his financial interests and holdings at the time of his confirmation but they were not known to the fullest extent. The investment in Navigator were through a series of companies in Cayman Islands, an offshore tax haven.

The leaked documents also showed Yuri Miller, a Russian billionaire who had invested in a start-up co-owned by Jared Kushner, had sizable investments in tech companies Facebook and Twitter, with money provided by a Russian bank and an oil and gas company, which he has denied.

Miller has said he had invested $850,000 in Cadre, a company co-owned by Kushner and his younger brother, according to The Washington Post. Kushner had not declared it in his disclosure form when joining President Trump as  senior adviser, but had declared his interests in a holding firm that oversaw his investment in Cadre.

The leaked documents also mentions secretary of state Rex Tillerson and chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, but no illegalities were reported.

A spokesman for Ross told New York Times the commerce secretary “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”.

He added, “Secretary Ross has never had to seek, nor received, any ethics exemption and he works closely with Commerce Department ethics officials to ensure the highest ethical standards.”