Commerce's Ross Says Navigator Divestment Not Typical Short Sale

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said his personal sale of stock in a shipping company days before news organizations revealed it was linked to close associates of Vladimir Putin was proper and was not a traditional short sale.

Ross, who wasn’t required to divest his holdings in shipping companies, sold shares of Navigator Holdings Ltd. on Oct. 31, a day after a reporter from the New York Times contacted him seeking comment about his stake in the company and its dealings with a Russian petrochemical firm. The transaction at issue was worth between $100,000 and $250,000, according to disclosure forms Ross filed with the Office of Government Ethics.

Speaking Thursday on Bloomberg Television, he said the shares in question were part of a director’s compensation program and it took a while for those to come into his possession so he could sell them.

"This is not what you would call a typical short sale,” Ross said. “Some shares in one company were not physically in my possession and there was a whole process I had to go through to get them into possession so I could sell them."

He said that “there was no profit or loss on this so-called short sale. It was simply a means of implementing a transaction.”

Navigator shares declined 3.9 percent between Oct. 31 and Nov. 16, when Ross closed out his short position.

Navigator’s Kremlin connections were revealed in November. News organizations that are part of the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published reports based on documents leaked from the Bermuda law firm Appleby to the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the consortium.

The documents showed that Navigator Holdings did substantial business with a Russian petrochemical firm called Sibur Holding PJSC , whose owners include Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, a Russian oligarch. Both are subject to American sanctions.

On Thursday, Ross said he’s divested himself of all easily sold holdings in compliance with the Office of Government Ethics, and placed those he couldn’t easily sell in a trust that goes beyond requirements. He said he doesn’t have investments in Russia or China.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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