Trump Official Wilbur Ross Involved With Business Tied to Vladimir Putin

(NEW YORK) — Newly leaked documents show that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s point man on trade and manufacturing policy, has a stake in a company that does business with a gas producer partly owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to records obtained by the International Consortium of Journalists, Ross is an investor in Navigator Holdings, a shipping giant that counts Russian gas and petrochemical producer Sibur among its major customers. Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov once owned more than 20 percent of the company, but now holds a much smaller stake.

Commerce Department spokesman James Rockas said Ross “never met” Shamalov and has generally supported the Trump administration’s sanctions against Russia, according to the ICIJ report. Rockas added that Ross has withdrawn from matters related to transoceanic shipping vessels and has met the “highest ethical standards.”

The details are likely to add to the questions about ties between Russia and the Trump administration, connections that for months have shadowed the White House and are a focus of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. Yet it wasn’t immediately clear how many partners Ross might have or what the profit-sharing agreement might be.

ICIJ disclosed the Ross holding as part of reporting on 13.4 million records of offshore entities in tax havens leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper then shared the records with ICIJ and a network of more than 380 journalists in 67 countries. The New York Times is its U.S. partner in this inquiry.

The Times earlier reported on the Ross holding.

It wasn’t immediately clear exactly how much of Navigator, which is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange, Ross personally owns. ICIJ reported that Ross and other investors own four Cayman Island entities that in turn own 31.5 percent of Navigator, a stake worth $176 million at Friday’s closing stock price.

Ross’ stake in Navigator is likely a small fraction of that. In financial disclosure forms he filed with the government this year, Ross valued his holdings in the Cayman Island entities, which include other companies besides Navigator, at no more than $10.1 million.

Sibur contributed 8 percent to Navigator’s revenue last year, according to reports filed with securities regulators. Russia’s energy sector is largely controlled by individuals with ties to state actors, including Putin.

Much of the new trove of files includes bank statements, emails and loan agreements from Appleby, a law firm that helps set up offshore dummy companies and trusts. Appleby told the ICIJ that there is “no evidence” that it has done anything wrong.

Other records came from Asiaciti Trust, a family-run offshore specialist based In Singapore, and from 19 corporate registries maintained by governments in jurisdictions that draw the wealthy seeking privacy.

Big investments in two U.S. tech companies from a Russian government bank and Russian energy giant have also come to light.

The ICIJ reported that Silicon Valley investor and Russian citizen Yuri Milner got $191 million from VTB Bank, and invested that money in Twitter. The leaked records also show that a financial subsidiary of Russian energy company Gazprom funded a shell company that invested in a Milner-affiliated company that held roughly $1 billion in Facebook shares shortly before its 2012 initial public offering.

Milner told the ICIJ that he was unaware of any involvement by the Gazprom subsidiary in any of his deals and that none of his investments has been related to politics.

Milner has also invested in a tech-savvy real estate fund that was co-founded by Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner called Cadre. Milner told the ICIJ that he used his own money for the investment.

Sunday’s revelations follow last year’s release of records from a Panama-based firm involved in setting up offshore accounts. That disclosure triggered investigations in several countries, the resignation of the prime minister of Iceland and ouster of the leader of Pakistan. The Panama Papers also revealed that close associates of Russia’s leader Putin had been using the dummy accounts abroad to store their wealth, including a close Putin friend who had $2 billion of offshore assets.

There are legitimate reasons for setting up offshore accounts, but lax regulation and anonymity in some jurisdictions make it easy to launder money, evade taxes and avoid regulatory scrutiny. Critics of the widening gap between the super-wealthy and the rest have seized upon the use of tax havens as revealed in the Panama Papers as evidence of a crisis, and governments have promised to crack down.

In the case of Ross, the ICIJ reported Navigator’s Russian customer, Sibur, has ties to Putin in addition to his son-in-law.

A big shareholder is Gennady Timchenko, who was targeted by the U.S. and other Western nations for sanctions after Russia’s invasion of the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014. A few months later, the U.S. barred banks from providing long-term financing to a gas company belonging to another large Sibur shareholder, Leonid Mikhelson. Mikhelson has also been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for propping up Putin’s rule.

Sibur itself was not targeted by the U.S. sanctions, but the Bank of America and the Royal Bank of Scotland reportedly backed away from doing business with the company.

The Russian gas producer last year contributed $23 million to Navigator’s revenue, an increase of more than 40 percent in two years

Trump pick for science position withdraws due to Russia connection

Yesterday, the Trump administration’s pick for a science post at the Department of Agriculture withdrew his name from consideration. Sam Clovis, who was a talk radio host before joining the Trump campaign, had been a controversial pick to begin with due to his complete lack of experience with either agriculture or science. But his nomination was terminated due to his role in the Trump campaign, where he supervised George Papadopoulos, the first person to plead guilty due to Robert Mueller’s investigation of the campaign’s Russian ties.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Clovis has served as a White House advisor within the Department of Agriculture. Earlier this year, Trump nominated him to a formal position within the department: the Undersecretary of Research, Education, and Economics. That position coordinates research within the department, and the person who holds the position is often referred to as Agriculture’s chief scientist. The law that created the position indicates that the person nominated for it should be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”

That description is a poor fit for Clovis, and several Democratic senators were questioning his qualifications prior to his nomination hearings. Clovis’ response to questions from Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), ranking member of the Senate’s agriculture committee, were obtained by The Washington Post. In them, Clovis admits he hasn’t taken any courses or published any research in science or agriculture. Instead, he suggested he was qualified because some of the courses he taught included some material on agriculture, and he had run for statewide office in Iowa. “One cannot be a credible candidate in that state,” Clovis contended, “without significant agricultural experience and knowledge.”

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US economy grows 3% in third quarter despite twin hurricanes

  • Figures beat forecasts and come despite hiring slump after Irma and Harvey
  • Trump pushing radical tax plan that he says will spur growth further

The US economy shook off the impact of two major hurricanes in the third quarter growing at a robust 3%, the commerce department reported Friday.

Related: All change at the Fed? Yellen’s term ends soon but Trump won’t say if she’ll stay

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Michael Bloomberg: Brexit is stupidest thing any country has done besides Trump

Exclusive: Billionaire media mogul says it is ‘hard to understand why a country doing so well wanted to ruin it’

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire media mogul and former mayor of New York, has said Brexit is the “single stupidest thing any country has ever done” apart from the election of Donald Trump as US president.

The 75-year old argued that “it is really hard to understand why a country that was doing so well wanted to ruin it” with the Brexit vote, in a series of outspoken remarks made at a technology conference in Boston a fortnight ago.

Related: With evidence of a failing Brexit, who needs prophecy? | Rafael Behr

Related: Trump won’t stop Americans hitting the Paris climate targets. Here’s how we do it | Michael Bloomberg

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White House wants to end Social Security numbers as a national ID

Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity czar, said on Tuesday that the government should end using the Social Security number as a national identification method.

“I believe the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” said Joyce, while speaking at The Washington Post‘s Cybersecurity Summit. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

One problem with the Social Security number, he said, is that a victim of identity theft cannot get it changed after it has been stolen.

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Peter Thiel is being considered to chair Trump’s intelligence advisory board

 In a fairly epic new Vanity Fair profile, the magazine reports that Peter Thiel is the frontrunner to become the chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (PIAB), a meta intelligence entity that functions independently from the nation’s spy agencies. Read More

Senate Intelligence Committee wants Facebook to appear in a public Russia hearing

 According to its chairman, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence intends to call Facebook to a public hearing on Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr made remarks to reporters on Tuesday confirming the committee’s interest in speaking with Facebook, the Hill reports. Read More

Google stops challenging most US warrants for data on overseas servers

Google has quietly stopped challenging most search warrants from US judges in which the data requested is stored on oversees servers, according to the Justice Department.

The revelation, contained in a new court filing to the Supreme Court, comes as the administration of President Donald Trump is pressing the justices to declare that US search warrants served on the US tech sector extend to data stored on foreign servers.

Google and other services began challenging US warrants for overseas data after a federal appeals court sided with Microsoft last year in a first-of-its-kind challenge. Microsoft convinced the New York-based 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals—which has jurisdiction over Connecticut, New York, and Vermont—that US search-and-seizure law does not require compliance with a warrant to turn over e-mail stored on its servers in Ireland. Federal prosecutors were demanding the data as part of a US drug investigation.

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