Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross did not cut ties to a shipping fund he promised to divest, according to a new financial disclosure report obtained by Forbes. He still owns an interest in Starboard Recovery Associates LP worth $1,000 to $15,000. Under the liabilities section of the filing, Ross also lists a “capital commitment” to a related company for $1 million to $5 million.
Previous Forbes investigations revealed how Ross lied about his net worth, remained in business with the Chinese government while in office and filed a false document with federal officials. On July 12, 2018, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics condemned Ross in a scathing letter, just as Forbes was about to publish to another investigation, which would reveal dozens of documented meetings between Ross and companies tied to his personal fortune.
In a public statement issued that night, Ross said he made accidental mistakes and promised bold action: “To maintain the public trust,” he said, “I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds place in U.S. Treasury securities.” Over the next several months, Ross did sell some of his interests, including the vast majority of his stake in Starboard. But he did not get rid of everything.
When asked about the remaining interests on Monday, Ross highlighted the fact that his July 2018 promise to divest all of his private equity interests was not legally binding. “While I have divested of many millions of dollars in complex private equity interests, the divestiture of an approximately $2,700 holding I volunteered, but was never legally required to divest, is still underway,” he said in a statement.
According to the new filing, Ross’ remaining interest in Starboard gives him an indirect share of a handful of shipping assets with nondescriptive names like WLR/TRF KZ Holding I LLC and WLR/TRF Tanker Two LLC. Forbes obtained additional documents that describe the business of several of those holdings. Many of the companies were created to invest in the products of shipyards in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.
One of them—NT Suez Holdco LLC—is a joint venture between Ross’ old private equity firm and a company called Diamond S Shipping. Before Diamond S merged into a public company in March, one of its largest shareholders was the government of China. That means Ross retained financial ties to America’s greatest economic adversary well into 2019, more than two years after he became Donald Trump’s commerce secretary. And he continues to own an interest in shipping businesses to this day, even as the Trump administration reworks trade deals around the globe.