U.S. Embassy London / Flickr U S Secretary of Commerce Wilbur...
U.S. Embassy London / Flickr

There are ethics violations, and then there are violations that declare: Ethics? What ethics?

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company — Navigator Holdings Ltd. — Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary.

Wilbur Ross not only has an interest in a shipping company intimately tied to the distribution of Russian oil and gas, but he’s spent his time as secretary of commerce personally buying and selling ships. Through shell companies and investment firms, Ross appears to have bought 11 ships just since March—all of them after Ross took on his role in the Department of Commerce.

There are no rules that force Ross to disclose the ships that he owns or who he’s doing business with—presumably because up until now, no one thought that the commerce secretary would so blatantly use his position to his personal advantage. American Public Media compiled information from the world’s best tax havens and carefully reviewed shipping records to form a picture of the business Ross is conducting while supposedly working for the nation.

The U.S. Commerce Secretary has a stake in at least 75 ships. APM Reports sorted through Ross’ financial disclosure forms, business filings in the U.S., Luxembourg, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, shipping trade publications, ship-tracking websites and major shipping company sites to determine the number.

Ross is neck-deep in transactions that help no one but Ross … just as he always has been.

Ross is a true believer both in the edifying power of greed and the idea that nothing is wrong unless it’s explicitly illegal—and maybe not even then. As the vice chairman of a Cyprus-based bank best known for its role in laundering Russian funds around the world, Ross worked directly with Russian oligarchs.

In 2015, while [Ross] served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.

That time at the Bank of Cyprus could soon very well feature before a certain grand jury, because of that bank’s connection to money laundering by Paul Manafort.

The role of the Bank of Cyprus in all of this has taken on a critical importance and it’s important to remember that Wilbur Ross, the current Secretary of Commerce, used to be on the board of that bank before he joined Camp Runamuck. This damn thing could go everywhere.

Not only is Ross buying ships without informing anyone, he’s selling ships that he promised to keep.

The scrutiny of Ross’ ships and the torrent of news about them in the past few days may have prompted the announcement Tuesday that he sold his interest in Diamond S. Shipping, the company with ties to China, but the sale price, the customer, and the timing of the sale weren’t disclosed. The news was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity.

During his testimony before the Senate, Ross not only said that he didn’t have to sell Diamond S, but agreed that he would not sell the company. Ross did agree to divest other assets, which he claims to have done—without providing a single document as proof.

As of Nov. 1, a filing with the Office of Government Ethics shows he has completed his divestiture as required in his ethics agreement. However, he has submitted no documentation (pursuant to a “periodic disclosure form”) that would document sales of his enormous stock portfolio. So what happened to assets worth as much as $2 billion?

At the moment, Wilbur Ross is in China with Donald Trump, where he is undoubtedly working on some additional deals. Just not for you.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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