Massive Leak Reveals New Ties Between Trump Administration and Russia, Implicating Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Jared Kushner
The so-called Paradise Papers have revealed secrets of politicians worldwide, including new links between the Trump administration and Russia.
A new trove of more than 13 million leaked documents implicates top officials and associates of President Donald Trump—as well as foreign politicians—in shady business relationships tied to offshore financial accounts.
In at least two cases, the documents highlight top administration officials’ previously undisclosed connections to Russia and Kremlin-linked interests.
The so-called Paradise Papers were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the same publication that obtained the “Panama Papers.” Süddeutsche Zeitung shared the new documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which led a global effort of 96 media organizations from 67 countries to pore through the records. The findings were published on Sunday.
The documents show that many of the wealthy individuals Trump brought into his administration have worked to legally store their money in offshore havens where they would be free from taxation in the United States. Trump has promised repeatedly to “drain the swamp,” in condemning the idea that well-connected individuals in Washington, D.C., preserve their own interests at the expense of the rest of the country.
Among the Trump administration officials implicated in the leaks is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who according to the documents concealed his ties to a Russian energy company that is partly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s judo partner Gennady Timchenko and Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov. Through offshore investments, Ross held a stake in Navigator Holdings, which had a close business relationship with the Russian firm. Ross did not disclose that connection during his confirmation process on Capitol Hill.
“In concealing his interest in these shipping companies—and his ongoing financial relationship with Russian oligarchs—Secretary Ross misled me, the Senate Commerce Committee, and the American people,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a statement on Sunday. He characterized Ross’ financial disclosures as a “Russian nesting doll, with blatant conflicts of interest carefully hidden within seemingly innocuous companies.”
Ross has been linked to Russian interests before; in 2014, he poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Bank of Cyprus, an institution regarded by financial watchdogs as a haven for Russian money laundering. Ross' fellow investors included a pair of Russian oligarchs, including Dmitry Rybolovlev, the man who bought a Trump property in Palm Beach for $95 million, even though it was valued at less than $60 million. Ross became a vice chair of the bank, along with a reported former KGB officer. Former Deutsche Bank executive Josef Ackermann was installed as chairman. Deutsche Bank—one of Trump’s biggest creditors—subsequently paid hundreds of millions to settle disputes that it shipped $10 billion or more to Russia in suspect loans.
Top White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is also implicated. The documents reveal that Russian tech leader Yuri Milner invested $850,000 in a startup called Cadre that Kushner co-founded in 2014.
Milner has long had a reputation in Silicon Valley as a big-league investor; his firm at one point owned major chunks of both Facebook and Twitter. But Milner was never considered particularly Kremlin-connected. These new documents call that reputation into question. The investing arm of Gazprom, the state-backed energy company, financed a share of Facebook worth up to $1 billion; a Kremlin-owned bank invested $191 million into a Milner firm, and some of that money was then injected into Twitter.
Despite Milner’s investment in his startup, Kushner said in July that he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed-door meeting that he never “relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”
Representatives for Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman and vice chairman of the committee, did not immediately return requests for comment. Kushner, who still has a stake in Cadre, did not previously disclose the firm’s other business ties.
The top adviser is already ensnared in the Russia investigations as questions continue to swirl about his meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Kushner attended the meeting alongside Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, who was indicted last week by the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert Mueller, in connection with his lobbying work for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top economic adviser Gary Cohn are all mentioned in the documents. But some lower-level appointees have more egregious connections to offshore interests—in some cases, directly related to industries they are tasked with regulating.
Randal Quarles, who was confirmed just last month to be vice chairman for supervision at the Federal Reserve, has financial connections to a bank based in Bermuda that is being probed by U.S. officials under suspicion of tax evasion. A Federal Reserve spokesman told The Guardian that Quarles divested from the bank when he assumed his position at the U.S. central bank.
It isn’t just American officials who are implicated in the document dump. A substantial portion of Queen Elizabeth II’s private estate—around 10 million pounds—resides in offshore accounts based in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Some of the money has been invested in companies with allegedly shady business practices.
A significant number of the leaked documents came from a law firm based in Bermuda called Appleby, which helps its clients set up offshore financial accounts with the goal of avoiding taxes on certain assets. Appleby has maintained that “there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.”
—with additional reporting by Noah Shachtman