Watchdog calls for investigation into Wilbur Ross

Complaint cites conflicts of interest in Commerce Secretary’s stake in shipping company

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, pictured at the 2017 SelectUSA Investment Summit.

Commerce Department 

The inspector general of the Commerce Department should investigate whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has complied with ethics and disclosure rules on several fronts, according to a new complaint from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Citing a Center for Public Integrity investigation, the Washington, D.C. watchdog group is asking, among other things, that the inspector general look into possible conflicts related to Ross’s stake in Diamond S Shipping Group Inc., one of the world’s largest owners and operators of medium-range tanker vessels.  

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) also questioned whether Ross’s participation in certain trade matters violated conflict of interest rules, given his Diamond S Shipping stake.

The Center for Public Integrity in November reported that a Commerce Department spokesman said Ross had divested his stake in Diamond S Shipping following the investigation. The complaint notes that Ross “has yet to report a sales transaction for these assets.”

CREW additionally recommended that the inspector general probe ”omissions and irregularities” in Ross’s reporting of other assets, including stakes in the Bank of Cyprus and Navigator Holdings Ltd., another shipping company, and look into whether the commerce secretary has divested all the assets he agreed to divest.

“The CREW complaint is filled with errors,” said James Rockas, Commerce Department press secretary, in an email. “Secretary Ross has divested his holdings in the funds which own Navigator Holdings, Diamond S Shipping, and Bank of Cyprus, as well as other securities, even though the divestitures of Navigator and Diamond S were not required by the Office of Government Ethics.” Ross also submitted reports explaining the divestments, which the Office of Government Ethics will release “in due course,” Rockas said.

The complaint also cites reporting by Forbes on discrepancies between Ross’s required personal financial disclosure form and previous statements about the scope of his wealth.

“Taken as a whole, Secretary Ross’s conduct suggests a pattern and practice of ignoring, if not flouting, his legal and ethical obligations to disclose his interests and avoid conflicts of interest and raises concerns about whether he was deliberately trying to obfuscate the value of his extensive assets,” CREW communications director Jordan Libowitz said in a press release.

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