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United States

Paradise Papers: Democrats want probe into US commerce chief Wilbur Ross’s business link to Putin son-in-law

US Commerce Secretary faces questions about business ties he did not disclose to Congress and the government

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 November, 2017, 3:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 10:31am

US Democrats have called for an inquiry into Wilbur Ross’s business links to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, as politicians and campaigners urged leaders to tackle tax avoidance systems revealed in the Paradise Papers.

Ross, Donald Trump’s billionaire commerce secretary, is under pressure after The Guardian and international partners revealed his holding in a shipping company that does lucrative business with a firm co-owned by Kirill Shamalov, who is married to the Russian president’s daughter.

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said Ross had misled Congress and the US public by concealing his ongoing stake in the company, Navigator, which has a haulage contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars with the Russian energy company Sibur.

“Only after a thorough investigation can Americans be sure Secretary Ross really has their best interests at heart,” said Blumenthal.

Ross’s Russian interests emerged from the Paradise Papers, a leak of 13 million documents from 19 tax havens which shed new light on how corporations and the global elite keep their wealth in offshore jurisdictions imposing no taxes and offering secrecy.

The leak showed that the Britain’s Queen Elizabeth had millions of pounds worth of offshore interests, linking her to a retailer accused of exploiting poor Britons. The investments also connected the British monarch to the Threshers chain of wine shops.

Campaigners have for years asked for tougher deterrence against the use of tax havens, only to see repeated revelations about their exploitation by some of the world’s wealthiest people.

On Sunday the Tax Justice Network called for the United Nations to convene a special summit where world leaders would agree to “end tax abuse and financial secrecy” with binding targets.

“These leaks confirm the systemic nature of tax abuse and corrupt practices, with global financial secrecy being marketed by major law firms, banks and accounting firms,” said Alex Cobham, chief executive of the Tax Justice Network.

“Government efforts to combat this problem have been piecemeal at best.”

Oxfam said the “stunning disclosures” meant Ross and other Trump allies named in the files, including chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and secretary of state Rex Tillerson, must recuse themselves from involvement in the president’s effort to overhaul the US tax code.

“Make no mistake, this is not just another salacious leak, this is a wake-up call,” said Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s policy director.

“The vast and real human costs of this story must not be ignored. Billions of dollars are being stashed away in paradise instead of being invested in roads, schools, and hospitals.”

Focus in the US immediately fell on Ross, whose extensive links to Russian business had already raised questions about his choice for the cabinet.

Congressman Eric Swallwell, a California Democrat who sits on the House intelligence committee, said on Sunday: “This Putin connection was likely an asset for getting hired, not [a] liability.”

Congress and Robert Mueller, the special counsel, are conducting investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. Ross and Trump deny any collusion occurred between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.

Blumenthal sits on the Senate commerce committee, which voted in February to approve Ross’s nomination by Trump.

Members were apparently not aware that the 79-year-old billionaire had retained a stake in Navigator, and Ross faced no questions over the arrangements.

A US Commerce Department spokesman has denied any ethical misconduct by Ross, according to the ICIJ.

Raja Krishnamoorthi‏, a Democrat congressman from Illinois, said: “Wilbur Ross’s ties to the Putin regime are extremely troubling and so is that they weren’t disclosed to the Senate before his confirmation.”