Washington (AFP) – US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday he did not stand to gain last year from short selling shares in a Kremlin-tied shipping firm days before coming under media scrutiny about the investment.
The transaction was first reported Monday in Forbes as part of a set of investments the magazine said constituted major ethical conflicts for Ross — who instead says he has met the legal and ethics requirements related to his personal fortune since taking office.
In a statement, Ross said last year he began selling his stake in Navigator Holdings — a shipping firm whose owners include Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law — but did not learn of the existence of the shares in question until the autumn.
“I later learned in late October that there were more shares belonging to me in an account the company had opened in electronic form at a firm acting as its agent,” Ross added.
Ross said that, in order to meet an ethics deadline for divestment even though he did not have “physical possession” of the shares, “I technically sold them short.”
Traditionally in a short sale, investors sell assets they borrow, speculating they will replace them later after prices have fallen and keep the difference as profit.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that the transaction, valued at between $100,000 and $250,000, had begun three days after the newspaper questioned Ross about his stake in Navigator.
The newspaper’s query was part of the Panama Papers revelations from leaked financial records and Ross would have anticipated the negative coverage of his investment as he arranged for the short sale, according to The Times.
Shares in Navigator fell 4.8 percent before Ross closed the transaction on November 16, 2017.
But Ross said Tuesday that after the agent delivered the shares, he simply passed them on to his broker.
“Therefore, it made no economic difference to me whether the shares went up or down between the sale date and the date I delivered them.”