Wilbur Ross says reports he didn't disclose ties to Putin-linked firm are 'totally wrong'

Key Points
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reportedly failed to clearly disclose to Congress that he retained an interest in a shipping firm that has close dealings with people linked to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
  • The details are contained in the "Paradise Papers," a trove of millions of leaked documents that show widespread holdings of cash in off-shore tax havens by the rich and powerful.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross responds to Paradise Papers allegations
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross responds to Paradise Papers allegations

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said reports that he did not disclose ties to a firm linked with Russian President Vladimir Putin are wrong.

Ross was revealed to have business links to a Russian firm with close ties to Putin during a leak of financial documents at the weekend. The ties were disclosed in the so-called "Paradise Papers," a mass of documents leaked to German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and reported Sunday.

The millions of documents mostly originate from a Bermuda-based legal services provider that works on offshore investments. Reports on Sunday suggested that Ross did not disclose an interest in a shipping company called Navigator Holdings, a company that has a business relationship with SIBUR.

Ross, however, has since denied to CNBC that he didn't disclose these holdings.

"That's totally wrong. It was disclosed on the form 278 which is the financial disclosure form, in my case, three times," Ross said.

In an earlier statement on Monday from the Department of Commerce it was further claimed that the holdings are openly listed in a form on the Office of Government Ethics website.

'Nothing improper'

The commerce secretary added that there was nothing improper about Navigator Holdings relationship with SIBUR.

Wilbur Ross
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

"A company not under sanction is just like any other company, period. It was a normal commercial relationship and one that I had nothing to do with the creation of, and do not know the shareholders who were apparently sanctioned at some later point in time," Ross told CNBC.

One of SIBUR's owners is Gennady Timchenko, a Russian billionaire who is considered part of Putin's inner circle, according to NBC. Since 2014, Timchenko has been barred by the Treasury Department from entering the United States, according to the news agency.

A second SIBUR owner is another Putin associate, Leonid Mikhelson, whose other company, Novatek, was placed on Treasury sanctions list in 2014, NBC noted. A third shareholder in SIBUR, and current board member, is Kirill Shamalov, husband of Vladimir Putin's daughter, Katerina Tikhonova.

'Nothing wrong with anything that was done'

Ross dismissed any suggestion that he considered resigning from his position as commerce secretary when the news broke Sunday night.

"No, that is a silly question. There is nothing wrong with anything that was done," Ross said.

I didn't reconsider my role after Paradise Papers: Wilbur Ross
I didn't reconsider my role after Paradise Papers: Wilbur Ross

Responding to the documents, the U.S. Department of Commerce said in an initial statement Sunday that 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," the statement said, adding: "The Secretary recuses himself from matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels, but has been supportive of the Administration's sanctions against Russian and other entities."

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Kirill Shamalov is a board member of SIBUR