The Paradise Papers: The Next Big Scandal to Hit Washington

FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, President-elect Donald Trump, left, stands with investor Wilbur Ross after meeting at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. Trump is poised to offer the position of commerce secretary to the head of a private-equity firm, Wilbur Ross. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ok. What’s going on?

Several news organizations have gotten their hands on leaked documents that have to deal with offshore accounts, tax havens and policies being influenced by some Trump associates and cabinet members.

And we’re talking big numbers.

To start:

The 7 million internal documents, dubbed “the Paradise Papers,” were handed over to German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung by Appleby, a Bermuda-based law firm, and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in partnership with others news outlets, including the Guardian, BBC and The New York Times. The same organization was also behind the release of the Panama Papers.

Like the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers revolve around the issue of offshore entities set up by members of the global elite.

The Paradise Papers reportedly pinpoint over 120 politicians and royal leaders around the world who have connections to offshore finance, according to NBC News. 

The global elite… so not just the GOPe?

Of those connected to our current administration, the top of the list would be Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary.

Ross apparently has some business ventures in common with the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Commerce Department now says Ross has recused himself from any dealings that relate to transoceanic shipping, and also has reached out to ethics officials, in order to assure his moves are ethical.

So who else is named in the documents known as the Paradise Papers?

 The president’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn has held leading roles in 22 separate entities for Goldman Sachs in Bermuda between 2002 and 2006, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also directed a company in Bermuda in 1997, according to The Guardian. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman and House and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson are also mentioned in the leaked documents, according to The Guardian.

Ben Carson, too?

None of this is to suggest that what they’re doing is illegal. If nothing else, these documents are an inside look at how the very rich are able to secure their assets offshore, where they’ll be free from American laws on taxation.

And it’s all legal.

With Ross, the problem isn’t with the holdings he divested, but with the ones he held on to, then wasn’t forthcoming about during his confirmation hearing.

Some lawmakers who sat in on Ross’ confirmation hearing are saying they’d be a bit less willing to have been so accepting of him, had they known about Ross’ connection to the Kremlin through his holdings.

From NBC News:

In his letter to the ethics official of the Commerce Department, Ross created two lists: those entities and interests he planned to get rid of and those he intended to keep. The second list consisted of nine entities, four of which were Cayman Islands companies represented and managed by the Appleby law firm, which specializes in creating complex offshore holdings for wealthy clients and businesses. The Wilbur Ross Group is one of the firm’s biggest clients, according to the leaked documents, connected to more than 60 offshore holdings.

The four holdings on the list of assets that Ross held onto were valued by him on the form as between $2.05 million and $10.1 million. These four, in turn, are linked through ownership chains to two other entities, WLR Recovery Fund IV DSS AIV L.P. and WLR Recovery Fund V DSS AIV L.P., which were listed in Ross’ financial disclosure prior to confirmation, but were not among the assets he declared he would retain. According to an SEC filing, those entities hold 17.5 million shares in Navigator, which constitutes control of nearly one-third of the shipping firm.

The listings seemed to be left deliberately vague, and some ethics officials have a problem with that. They feel the list was in code, of some sort.

This is still developing, so it really feels like something bigger is coming.

Add this to what’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now, and it spells for a major news week ahead.