Democrats investigating Russia ties seek financial data on Trump administration

Stephanie Kirchgaessner
Steven Mnuchin with his wife Louise Linton at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) in Washington. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Democrats in Washington have demanded the release of financial data about members of the Trump administration after the publication of the Paradise Papers highlighted that a member of the president’s cabinet had business links with Vladimir Putin’s family.

Senior lawmakers have written to the US treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, seeking access to financial data that might show the administration’s possible links to the Kremlin and other Russian individuals.

A letter signed by Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House financial services committee, and four other Democratic lawmakers called on Mnuchin to share any financial data that the treasury department might have that would help the committee determine the “extent of any undue influence on the president and his administration from Russian government officials, oligarchs, and organised crime leaders”.

The Democrats are seeking access to any records that may be held by the treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (Fincen), which collects and analyses a vast amount of financial information to help combat money laundering and other financial crimes.

Mnuchin was not responsive to a previous request for data by the lawmakers, which was issued in May.

1) Millions of pounds from the Queen’s private estate has been invested in a Cayman Islands fund – and some of her money went to a retailer accused of exploiting poor families.

2) Prince Charles’s estate made a big profit on a stake in his friend’s offshore firm.

3) Extensive offshore dealings by Donald Trump’s cabinet members, advisers and donors, including substantial payments from a firm co-owned by Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law to the shipping group of the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross.

4) Twitter and Facebook received hundreds of millions of dollars in investments that can be traced back to Russian state financial institutions.

5) The tax-avoiding Cayman Islands trust managed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau’s chief moneyman.

6) The Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton avoided taxes on a £17m jet using an Isle of Man scheme.

7) A previously unknown $450m offshore trust that has sheltered the wealth of Lord Ashcroft.

8) Oxford and Cambridge and top US universities invested offshore, with some of the money going into fossil fuel industries.

9) The man managing Angola’s sovereign wealth fund invested it in projects he stood to profit from.

10) Apple secretly moved parts of its empire to Jersey after a row over its tax affairs.

11) How the sportswear giant Nike stays one step ahead of the taxman.

12) The billions in tax refunds by the Isle of Man and Malta to the owners of private jets and luxury yachts.

13) Offshore cash helped fund Steve Bannon's attacks on Hillary Clinton.

14) The secret loan and alliance used by the London-listed multinational Glencore in its efforts to secure lucrative mining rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

15) The complex offshore webs used by two Russian billionaires to buy stakes in Arsenal and Everton football clubs.

16) Stars of the BBC hit sitcom Mrs Brown's Boys used a web of offshore companies to avoid tax.

17) British celebrities including Gary Lineker used an arrangement that let them avoid tax when selling homes in Barbados.

18) Prominent Brexit campaigners have put money offshore.

19) An ex-minister who defended tax avoidance has a Bahamas trust fund.

20) The Dukes of Westminster pumped millions into secretive offshore firms.

21) A tax haven lobby group boasted of 'superb penetration' at the top of the UK government before a G8 summit that was expected to bring in greater offshore transparency.

22) The law firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers leak was criticised for 'persistent failures' on terrorist financing and money laundering rules.

23) Seven Republican super-donors keep money in tax havens. 

24) A top Democratic donor built up a vast $8bn private wealth fund in Bermuda.

25) The schemes used to avoid tax on UK property deals.

26) The celebrities, from Harvey Weinstein to Shakira, with offshore interests.

27) How a private equity firm tried to extract £890m from a struggling care home operator by making it take out a costly loan.

28) Trump’s close ally Robert Kraft, the New England Patriots owner, is the longtime owner of an offshore firm.

29) One of the world’s biggest touts used an offshore firm to avoid tax on profits from reselling Adele and Ed Sheeran tickets.

But the lawmakers said recent revelations about the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and his ties to Russia – which were made public through the release of the Paradise Papers – represented further evidence of the importance of their request and the public interest in determining the extent of hidden Trump-Russia connections.

The Paradise Papers were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a group of media outlets that includes the Guardian and the New York Times. The electronic documents detailed otherwise secret offshore investments and tax dealings of wealthy individuals, including politicians.

The Paradise Papers showed that Ross had failed to appropriately disclose a “substantial business relationship” with a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the congressional letter said.

Through its work, the consortium of journalists revealed that Ross maintained a financial stake in offshore companies that control 31.5% of a shipping company called Navigator, that counts a Russian gas and petrochemical company as one of its largest partners. The Russian company, called Sibur, is partly owned by Putin’s son-in-law and a Russian oligarch who is currently under US sanctions.

“Secretary Ross’s ownership stake in Navigator presents a clear conflict of interest,” the letter from the members of Congress stated.

It added: “It seems to be clear to everyone but you [Secretary Mnuchin] that these continuing revelations demand immediate attention.”

Ross denied wrongdoing and said there was nothing improper about Navigator’s relationship with Sibur and that it had been disclosed on one of his ethics forms.

Critics said the disclosure was buried so deep in the form, and was so buried within obscure references to the Cayman Islands, that it was impossible to know what the investments contained and the true nature of his business connections was only made public because of the Paradise Papers investigation.

Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the US Senate commerce committee, said Ross had deceived the public as well as lawmakers who had confirmed his appointment to Trump’s cabinet after he promised to divest such holdings.

The letter by Waters and other Democrats to Mnuchin also pointed to a recent report by Global Witness that found that Trump had licenced his name to a Panamanian real estate development that used to allegedly launder illicit Russian funds and the proceeds of drug trafficking.

There is no evidence that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family broke the law or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the Panamanian tower’s brokers, buyers and investors.

The White House and Ivanka Trump referred requests for comment to the Trump Organization, which issued a statement distancing itself from the tower.

Democrats cannot compel Mnuchin to release treasury data about the president or other administration officials because they are in the minority. But the letter puts pressure on the treasury secretary by shining a spotlight on one administration official’s use of the offshore industry to conduct business.

The latest Capitol Hill call for transparency comes after Senator Bernie Sanders warned that the publication of the Paradise Papers shone a light on “the major issue of our time”.

Sanders told the Guardian: “The major issue of our time is the rapid movement toward international oligarchy in which a handful of billionaires own and control a significant part of the global economy. The Paradise Papers shows how these billionaires and multinational corporations get richer by hiding their wealth and profits and avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

The new pressure in Washington DC, came on the same day that Jeremy Corbyn, the British leader of the Labour party, used a speech to the UN in Geneva to describe the “grotesque” levels of inequality and mass tax avoidance as one of the biggest problems facing the world, pointing to the Paradise Papers as evidence which showed “the super-rich and powerful can’t be trusted to regulate themselves” .