By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — A massive leak of financial documents — dubbed the Paradise Papers — indicates U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has an investment in a shipping firm that has links to a company controlled by associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The documents released on November 5 by the U.S.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), also revealed that Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has some $13 million in investments in offshore portfolios.
ICIJ was behind the release of the so-called Panama Papers in 2016, in which documents from a Panama-based law firm revealed detailed information on offshore accounts of many world leaders and wealthy individuals.
The Paradise Papers material came from two offshore service providers and the company registries of 19 tax havens. It was obtained by the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the ICIJ with partners including The Guardian, the BBC, The New York Times, and dozens of other news agencies that analyzed the information.
The documents were shared with multiple news outlets because of the high volume of information involved in what was called Project Paradise.
Ross and Queen Elizabeth were the biggest names involved in examinations of the first batch of the 13.4 million files.
There was no indication either person’s activities were illegal, although Ross’ connections to a Russian interests could be embarrassing to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and raise questions about conflicts of interest.
Potential links between Trump associates and Russia have come under scrutiny amid allegations that Moscow interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
The documents indicate Ross, a billionaire investor, maintained ties after taking office with a shipping company that has links to associates of Putin.
Ross, 79, once had a large stake in Navigator Holdings, a shipping company that transports gas for Russian energy firm Sibur.
Sibur is partially owned by Gennady Timchenko, a friend of Putin’s who is under U.S. sanctions over Russian aggression in Ukraine, and by Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov, the New York Times reported.
Ross’ private equity firm has been the biggest shareholder in Navigator.
His personal share of the firm’s stake was reduced when he took office in February, although his U.S. government filings show his holdings are still valued at $2 million to $10 million.
The New York Times reported that Ross’ stake in Navigator has been held by a complex web of companies in the Cayman Islands.
James Rockas, a Commerce Department spokesman, said Ross “was not involved with Navigator’s decision to engage in business with Sibur, a publicly traded company, which was not under sanction at the time and is not currently.”
“Moreover, Secretary Ross has never met the Sibur shareholders referenced in this story and, until now, did not know of their relationship,” he added.
The BBC reports the documents also show that Kremlin-connected tycoon Alisher Usmanov may have a secret stake in a company responsible for making anti-money-laundering due diligence on companies it administers.
The BBC said Usmanov is a client of Bridgewaters and that If he also owns a stake, it would constitute a conflict of interest.
Usmanov and Bridgewaters “strongly deny” the Russian owns or controls the company, the BBC reported.
Meanwhile, the papers indicate that millions of dollars of Queen Elizabeth’s private funds were invested into funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda by the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the Queen with an income and handles investments for her $650 million private estate.
Analysts said that while there did not appear to be anything illegal with the investment activity and no indication that she avoided taxers, the Queen could face criticism for investing offshore instead of within Britain.