The Paradise Papers have outed commerce secretary Wilbur Ross's ties to Vladamir Putin's son-in-law.
The Paradise Papers have outed commerce secretary Wilbur Ross's ties to Vladamir Putin's son-in-law. AP Photo - Evan Vucci

Huge leak exposes more Trump administration links to Russia

PRESIDENT Donald Trump's commerce secretary is doing business with Vladimir Putin's son-in-law through a shipping venture in Russia, according to newly-released documents.

Wilbur Ross has an interest in Navigator Holdings, which earns millions a year transporting oil and gas for Russian energy firm Sibur. When he joined Mr Trump's cabinet Mr Ross divested his interests in 80 companies.

But kept stakes in a number of companies, including a number in the Cayman Islands that link him to Navigator. One shareholder of Sibur is President Putin's son in law, Kirill Shamalov.

Two other major Sibur shareholders are under some form of US sanctions.

Mr Shamalov has a 3.9 per cent stake in the firm. Shareholder Gennady Timchenko, who has been individually sanctioned by the United States, in addition to a number of companies connected to him. Leonid Mikhelson, whose main company, Novatek, is also sanctioned, is another major shareholder.

Sibur itself is not under sanctions. Mr Shamalov is also not under any sanctions, although his father is.

The documents were obtained bu German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which called in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) to oversee the investigation.

The US Commerce Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, responding to the release on the papers to the ICIJ, a spokesman for Mr Ross did not dispute the release, but said that the Commerce Secretary never met Mr Putin's son-in-law or Sibur's other owners and that he was not on the board of Navigator when it initiated its relationship with Sibur.

Mr Ross recuses himself from matters that relate to international shipping, his spokesman said, and "has been generally supportive of the administration's sanctions" against Russian entities.

During his confirmation hearing by the US Senate, Mr Ross was not asked about his links to Mr Putin's family.

But the chief ethics counsel in George W Bush's administration, Richard Painter, told The Guardian that he had not made it clear that he was retaining his stake in Navigator. 

"It is very difficult to figure out from the financial disclosure," he said. "He should have sold off any and all interests."

It was suggested that he was making a "clean cut" from Navigator by divesting from WL Ross by influential shipping industry newsletter, Lloyds List.  

"Mr Ross's apparent departure is to avoid conflict of interest," it said, before quoting Mr Ross at the hearing.