Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) respectfully requests that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigate whether Secretary of Commerce Wilbur L. Ross properly reported all required financial holdings and transactions on his public financial disclosure report; fully divested from conflicting assets in accordance with the terms of his ethics agreement; and appropriately recused himself from certain trade matters.
Secretary Ross’s public financial disclosure report reveals discrepancies between the total value of his reported assets and information he previously disclosed publicly about the extent of his wealth. Although he told Forbes he had assets worth more than $3 billion, Secretary Ross’s financial disclosure report shows assets of only about $700 million. This discrepancy alone raises a question of whether he accurately disclosed all of his reportable assets and income, as the Ethics in Government Act requires.
Secretary Ross’s disclosure report also reveals apparent omissions and irregularities in his reporting of problematic assets, including the Bank of Cyprus, Diamond S Shipping, and Navigator Holdings Ltd. Secretary Ross has yet to fully account for the extent and value of his shares in the Bank of Cyprus, and he failed to file periodic transaction reports for the sale of his Bank of Cyprus shares and approximately 40 other assets. With respect to Diamond S Shipping, he appears to have misreported the value of his holdings, and despite his reported intent to divest he has yet to report a sales transaction for these assets. Secretary Ross also apparently failed to report values for Navigator Holdings Ltd., which operates the world’s largest fleet of handy-size (which are between small and mid-size) liquefied gas carriers, and for the underlying assets held by WLR Conduit MM, which is involved primarily in shipping and liquefied natural gas exploration.
Second, in an ethics agreement he entered to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest, Secretary Ross represented that he would divest of all his holdings in the Bank of Cyprus. Despite the agreement, Secretary Ross delayed divesting one part of his Bank of Cyprus stock past the time permitted, and it is not clear if he has properly divested from a second part of his holdings in the bank.
Third, Secretary Ross appears to have violated conflict of interest rules by participating in meetings and policy deliberations involving United States and China trade matters related to assets he held or holds. These include a meeting in mid-July of top U.S. and Chinese business leaders at Commerce Department headquarters that included Secretary Ross’s Diamond S Shipping business partner, and his participation in negotiating a trade deal that included a plan to increase natural gas exports from the U.S. to China that could enhance the value of Secretary Ross’s natural gas exploration holdings and his shipping interests in Navigator Holdings Ltd.
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.