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November 07, 2017

*-- Commerce chief Ross: 'Nothing wrong' with Russian business deal --*

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Monday there is nothing improper about a deal involving a shipping company he's invested in and a Russian energy company that's tied to U.S. sanctions and Kremlin President Vladimir Putin.

Ross spoke for the first time about what's called the Paradise Papers -- a collection of 13 million documents leaked Sunday that reveal offshore investments of more than 120,000 people, including Ross.

According to some of the records, Ross still holds a stake in U.S. shipping company Navigator Holdings -- which does business with Russian energy firm Sibur, whose owners include Gennady Timchenko, a businessman sanctioned by the U.S. government, and Kirill Shamalov, Putin's son-in-law.

"I don't know any of those individuals, I've never met them," Ross told BBC News Monday. "I've certainly not had any commercial dealings with them.

"There is no interlocking of board. There is no interlocking of shareholders. I had nothing to do with the negotiation of the deal."
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The U.S. commerce chief emphasized that Sibur, as a company, has not been sanctioned.

"So there is nothing whatsoever improper about Navigator having a relationship with Sibur," Ross said. "There is nothing wrong with it."

"If our government decided to sanction [Sibur], that would be a different story."

A Commerce Department statement said Ross never met Timchenko or Shamalov -- and that no funds managed by his company ever owned a majority of Navigator's shares.

Ross also told Bloomberg Monday that there was nothing improper about the business agreement.

"We have no business ties to those Russian individuals who are under sanction," he said.
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The leaked documents come from a Bermuda-based law firm, Appleby, and also contain references to other members of the Trump administration, including chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

While being confirmed as commerce secretary earlier this year, Ross provided ethics officials lists of interests he planned to give up and those he planned to keep. After the Paradise Papers were leaked Sunday, Ross was accused of withholding the information about his interest in Navigator.

"I feel misled," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said. "Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies."

Monday, though, Ross dismissed the idea that he withheld anything during his confirmation.

"Much has been made of that it wasn't disclosed. It was," he answered.

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