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Trump’s Commerce Secretary Owns Stake in Russian Companies While He Oversees Potential Sanctions

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The Paradise Papers revealed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is conducting business with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law through a shipping venture in Russia. According to the leaked documents, Ross owns a stake through offshore entities in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm that receives millions of dollars from a company owned by Putin’s close allies. On Monday, Ross told the BBC he had declared his interests earlier this year when he joined Trump’s administration, and had done nothing wrong. “This Trump administration is responsible for imposing sanctions on various Russians, some of whom are involved in this company, Sibur,” responds our guest Jon Swaine of The Guardian. “That’s a pretty big conflict.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In some of the articles recently as a result of the Paradise Papers, there’s also a discussion of the current commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and his involvement in offshore money. Could you talk about that, as well?

JON SWAINE: Sure. So, what the documents, and some public filings that sort of we looked at in light of the documents, show is that Wilbur Ross has a stake in this shipping company named Navigator. Navigator does tens of millions of dollars a year business with a Russian gas company named Sibur. And one of the co-owners of that gas company is Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov. This hasn’t been noticed before, this wasn’t known before, that Wilbur Ross had actually retained this stake, even after joining the Trump administration. He is continuing to be involved in this business venture, which sees his shipping company ship gas for Putin’s son-in-law’s Russian gas country from Russia into Europe. And it’s a pretty—

AMY GOODMAN: And he’s still involved with this now—

JON SWAINE: He’s still involved in it. He’s retained his interests as he’s gone into government.

AMY GOODMAN: —as commerce secretary. Well, let’s go to Ross telling the BBC he had declared his interests earlier this year when he joined Trump’s administration, and has done nothing wrong.

COMMERCE SECRETARY WILBUR ROSS: I think the media has made a lot more out of it than it deserves. First of all, the company in question, Sibur, is a very major hydrocarbon company. Its commercial relationship with Navigator Holdings is simply that Navigator charters some vessels to them. There’s no interlocking of board. There’s no interlocking of shareholders. I had nothing to do with the negotiation of the deal. … The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company does not mean that there’s any evil in it.

AMY GOODMAN: So this is the current commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross. Your response to what he’s saying, Jon Swaine?

JON SWAINE: Our response would be, we’re not saying anything is evil involved in this. We’re just saying that it presents some problems. You know, this is the commerce secretary of the United States. He is responsible for various areas of trade and industry, and including shipping. And so, you know, quite apart from the Russia element, this is the commerce secretary of the United States carrying on in his own industrial business while being in government. He says he’s recused himself from that kind of area of business. But, you know, that still presents problems.

But also, this Trump administration is responsible for imposing sanctions on various Russians, some of whom are involved in this company, Sibur. Wilbur Ross is part of that administration. You know, that’s a pretty big conflict to be part of this team imposing these sanctions while doing business with people who are sanctioned.

AMY GOODMAN: When we come back, the seven Republican super-donors who keep money in tax havens. Jon Swaine is our guest, senior reporter with The Guardian. He’s part of that team that’s publishing stories on the Paradise Papers. Stay with us.

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