Late yesterday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), working with dozens of media partners around the world, published the results of a huge global investigation into the use of tax havens.
The results of the investigation, based on the leak of 13.4 million files from two offshore service providers and 19 tax havens’ company registries, are shocking and lead to people who are close to Trump.
The files, known collectively as the Paradise Papers, reveal the offshore financial affairs of some of the world’s biggest multinational companies and richest individuals, including some of Donald Trump’s cabinet.
Trump has said he will work for ordinary Americans, but his Cabinet are certainly not paying their fair share of tax.
Let’s take a quick look at Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. The ex-boss of Exxon is named in the Paradise Files “as a director of an offshore firm used in a multibillion-dollar oil and gas venture in the Middle East that became embroiled in controversy”, according to the Guardian, one of the papers involved in the Paradise Papers collaboration.
Tillerson was as director of Marib Upstream Services Company, incorporated in Bermuda in 1997 to conduct operations in the Yemen’s Marib-Al-Jauf basin, according to documents from leading offshore law firm Appleby, which is at the centre of the leak.
Marib was tied to Exxon, during the time that Tillerson was president of ExxonMobil’s Yemen division. Tillerson sat on Marib’s board in the late nineties.
In turn, according to the ICIJ, Marib Upstream was a joint Venture between 3 companies, including the Yemen Exploration and Production Company which was jointly owned by Exxon and Hunt Oil.
Hunt had discovered the gas fields in the mid nineteen eighties and had brought in Exxon to help develop them.
However, according to the ICIJ: “In 2005, the Yemeni government …turned over production rights to a state-owned company,” effectively nationalising the assets. Naturally Exxon and Hunt objected and filed a complaint with the International Chamber of Commerce, although Yemen won. Despite this ruling, the company still existed as recently as 2015. But this is not Exxon’s only offshore dealings.
The Guardian points out that in a report published last year, the campaign group Citizens for Tax Justice said Exxon had at least 35 subsidiaries in tax havens such as the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and Luxembourg. The company held over $51 billion in offshore accounts whilst Tillerson was CEO.
The leak also raises questions about US Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr who still has a stake in a shipping firm, Navigator holdings, that receives millions of dollars a year in revenue from a company whose key owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law, which is incorporated in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. Some of the individuals linked to the company are closely related to top Russian officials currently under sanctions.
It is alleged that Ross was not totally forthcoming about the extent of these business dealings. According to NBC News, Ross “failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.”
And once again the scandal links to oil. According to the ICIJ “Among Navigator’s largest customers, contributing more than $68 million in revenue since 2014, is the Moscow-based gas and petrochemicals company Sibur,” which was created by the Russian state.
Two of its key owners are Kirill Shamalov, who is married to Putin’s youngest daughter, and Gennady Timchenko, the sanctioned oligarch whose activities in the energy sector, the Treasury Department said, were “directly linked to Putin.”
The ICIJ continues: “The leaked files showed a chain of companies and partnerships in the Cayman Islands through which Ross has retained his financial stake in Navigator. The fact that Ross’ Cayman Islands companies benefit from a firm controlled by Putin proxies raises serious potential conflicts of interest, experts say.”
Amos Hochstein, the top energy diplomat during the Obama administration, tells the ICIJ: “When you start doing business with Russian energy companies like Gazprom and Sibur, you’re not just getting into bed with the company. You’re getting into bed with the Russian state.”
The Democrats have seized on leaked documents, with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal calling the revelations of the Kremlin links “inexcusable”. Blumenthal also told NBC News: “Our committee was misled, the American people were misled by the concealment of those companies.”
But today Ross has come out fighting. He told the BBC: “There’s nothing whatsoever improper about Navigator having a relationship with Sibur …If our government decided to sanction them, that would be a different story”.