Vast leak reveals secret havens of the rich

World | 7 Nov 2017

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents that also revealed Britain's Queen Elizabeth II's investments in tax havens.

It was also revealed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's top fundraiser and senior advisor Stephen Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, moved some US$60 million (HK$468 million) to offshore tax havens with ex- senator Leo Kolber.

The findings have emerged as part of the Paradise Papers released by the US- based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which was behind the Panama Papers made public last year.

There is no suggestion that Ross, Bronfman or the queen's private estate acted illegally.

But Ross' ties to Russian entities raise questions over potential conflicts of interest, and whether they undermine Washington's sanctions on Moscow.

The revelations about Bronfman could spell trouble for Trudeau, who was elected two years ago riding on the coattails of promises to reduce economic inequality and tax avoidance.

In the case of Queen Elizabeth's private estate, critics may question whether it is appropriate for the British head of state to invest in offshore tax havens.

Bono, lead singer of U2, used a company based in low-tax Malta to buy a shopping center in Lithuania, the freshly- leaked Paradise Papers documents reveal.

The Ausra mall was bought for 5.1 million (HK$52.15 million) 10 years ago through Maltese firm Nude Estates, of which the rock star was a director.

Ross, a billionaire investor, holds a 31 percent stake in Navigator Holdings through a complex web of offshore investments detailed in the documents examined by nearly 100 news organizations as part of an international collaboration.

The 79-year-old reduced his stake when he took public office, according to public filings.

Navigator Holdings runs a lucrative partnership with Russian energy giant Sibur, which is partially owned by Putin's son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian president's friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions.

The US imposed sanctions on Russian entities and individuals following its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.

Ross's private equity firm has been the biggest shareholder in Navigator.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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