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article imageUS commerce chief defends Russian business links

By AFP     Nov 6, 2017 in Politics

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has defended personal business links to Russia revealed by the Paradise Papers, in an interview with the BBC on Monday.

In a separate interview with Bloomberg, Ross indicated he could end the links but not because of any wrongdoing.

"I think the media has made a lot more out of it than it deserves," Ross told the BBC on the sidelines of a business conference in London.

Ross insisted that "there is no impropriety".

A vast leak of documents dubbed the Paradise Papers released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) show that Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle.

Ross's ties raise questions over potential conflicts of interest, and whether they undermine Washington's sanctions on Moscow.

Ross, a billionaire investor, holds a 31-percent stake in Navigator Holdings through a complex web of offshore investments detailed in the documents examined by nearly 100 news organisations as part of an international collaboration.

His personal share of the firm's stake was reduced when he took office in February, but the commerce chief's investment is still valued at between $2 million and $10 million (1.7 million euros and 8.6 million euros), according to his security filings and government ethics disclosure.

Asked by Bloomberg if he was keeping the remaining stake, Ross replied: "Probably not", adding, "I have been actually selling it anyway, but that isn't because of this".

Navigator Holdings runs a lucrative partnership with Russian energy giant Sibur, which is partially owned by Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian president's friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions.

Responding to the BBC on Monday, Ross added: "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.

"And in fact it was negotiated before I went on the board of Navigator."

Ross went on: "But most importantly the company that is our client itself, Sibur, was not then sanctioned, is not now sanctioned, and never was sanctioned in between.

"There's nothing whatsoever improper."

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