Trump’s commerce chief Wilbur Ross linked with sanctioned Russians

President Donald Trump has switched his official residence from New York to Florida
President Donald Trump has switched his official residence from New York to Florida
Wilbur Ross has played a key role in Trump’s political careers

A top member of Donald Trump’s administration has business links with Russian allies of President Vladimir Putin who are under US sanctions, the Paradise Papers have revealed.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has an interest in Navigator Holdings, which earns millions a year transporting oil and gas for Russian energy firm Sibur.

Two major Sibur shareholders are under some form of US sanctions.

A commerce department spokesman did not dispute the revelations.

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“Secretary Ross recuses himself from any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels,” the spokesman told BBC Panorama, adding that the secretary “works closely with Commerce Department ethics officials to ensure the highest ethical standards”.

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Another Sibur shareholder is President Putin’s son in law, Kirill Shamalov.

He holds a 3.9% stake in the firm.

Gennady Timchenko, who has been individually sanctioned by the United States, as have at least 12 companies connected to him, and Leonid Mikhelson, whose main company, Novatek, is also sanctioned, are major shareholders.

Sibur itself and Mr Shamalov are not under sanctions, although Mr Shamalov’s father, Nikolai, is.

The commerce department spokesman said Mr Ross had never met the three Russian shareholders.

The US imposed some sanctions after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Others were imposed last year for alleged interference in the US presidential election.

The revelations will again raise questions about the Russian connections of Donald Trump’s team.

His presidency has been dogged by allegations that Russians colluded to try to influence the outcome of the election.

He has called the allegations “fake news”.

A special counsel is investigating the matter.

Wilbur Ross and Donald Trump have known each other for more than a quarter of a century.

Mr Ross played a key part in a prepackaged bankruptcy deal – deal agreed between a company and its creditors – for Mr Trump’s Atlantic City casino, the Taj Mahal, in the 1990s.

Trump biographer David Cay Johnston told BBC Panorama: “If it hadn’t been for Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump would not be in the White House.

Major client

WL Ross & Co, which was founded by Wilbur Ross, first invested in Navigator Holdings in 2011.

An investigation has revealed details of how Mr Ross retains a financial interest in Navigator Holdings via a number of companies in the Cayman Islands.

Some of these Cayman companies were disclosed by Mr Ross when he became commerce secretary, but under the disclosure rules he did not have to declare his interest in Navigator Holdings.

Its annual report in 2016 showed 31.5% was still held by entities in which Mr Ross has a stake, although the value of Mr Ross’s personal holding remains unclear.