World

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties with Venezuela's PDVSA, despite U.S. sanctions

Venezuela's state oil company is a client of Navigator Holding, of which Ross has been a shareholder since 2011.

Since the Trump administration came to power it has not spared Venezuela's government from attacks, describing it as an "unacceptable" and "corrupt" socialist dictatorship, even declining to rule out military action against it.

The Treasury Department has sanctioned several top Venezuelan officials, including two ex-vice-presidents of PDVSA, Venezuela's state oil company.

What few know is that Donald Trump's Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, maintains a lucrative business with Venezuela's government.

A shipping company of which Ross is a shareholder and has been a member of its board of directors, provides transportation services to PDVSA, according to documents viewed by Univision as a result of a large leak of documents from the offshore law firm Appleby in Bermuda.

The firm Navigator Holdings, based in London, of which Ross has been a shareholder since 2011, operates the largest fleet of medium-sized vessels equiped to handle liquefied gas transportation.

In 2016, 20% of the company's revenues came from the operation of vessels in the service of PDVSA as well as the official oil company of Indonesia, PT Pertamina, according to a company statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Three vessels of the fleet operate for the Venezuelan government company, according to the same report.

"This is worrying," said Juan Fernandez, PDVSA's former planning manager, told Univision. "Doing business with bandits is not a good thing. It seems business is more important than principles and values," he added.

Ross, who is an expert in the turn around of bankrupt companies, began investing in Navigator in 2011 through his company WL Ross 7 Co. He acquired a 19.4% stake which gave him the right to have two seats on the board, one of which he occupied at the beginning of the following year.

Despite his commercial commitments, Ross has maintained a strong discourse against the Venezuelan government of President Nicolás Maduro.

In an interview in May of last year, he affirmed that Venezuela should be a prosperous country, "and that it was doing very well until it was taken over by the Communists."

Navigator recognizes the difficulties of operating in Venezuela. In its reports to the SEC for the last three years, it mentions that the "geopolitical risks" related to vessel chartering to Indonesia and Venezuela "are significant and could have an adverse impact on our business."

In a response to ICIJ, Ross said he continues to support the Trump administration's handling of the Venezuela crisis.