Washington, DC — Leaked documents published today by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists expose how offshore tax havens, white-collar professionals, and anonymous company owners hide their finances behind a veil of secrecy. The documents from Bermuda-based law firm Appleby include evidence of dubious deals and holdings involving the Queen of England, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief fundraiser, and Trump appointed U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
According to the documents, Wilbur Ross used a constellation of companies, some with their ownership undisclosed. The companies were set up by Appleby to retain shares in Navigator Holdings, a shipping firm with business ties to a Russian oligarch subject to American sanctions.
Ross’ stake has received more than $68 million in revenue since 2014 from Sibur, a Russian energy company co-owned by the son-in-law of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The documents also report that Appleby has administered some 50 companies and partnerships set up in the Caymans and other tax havens that are connected to Ross, whose net worth is estimated to be more than $2 billion dollars.
“This is yet another instance of conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. Wilbur Ross influences US trade and sanctions, yet he is still making millions from a Russian company that could be targeted by these decisions. This is highly problematic for an administration at the center of investigations into collusion with the Russian state,” said Mark Hays, Anti Money Laundering Campaign Leader at Global Witness.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has profited handsomely from a shipping company with business ties to Putin’s family https://t.co/DkZO3TdANj
The deals outlined in the Paradise Papers underscore the importance of transparency measures, such as Beneficial Ownership Transparency legislation [S. 1454, S. 1717, and H.R. 3089] , which would help prevent public officials and companies involved in potentially criminal or corrupt activities from using the offshore system to hide their dealings behind a veil of secrecy.
“This new leak demonstrates once again how it’s all too easy to use anonymous companies to game the system,” said Hays.
Note to Editors
Experts from Global Witness, an internationally recognized organization for bold, tenacious campaigns to expose and break links between natural resources, conflict and corruption, are available for comment or interview by emailing Andy Stepanian at email@example.com and can provide insight in the following areas:
The White House National Security Council (NSC) paid over $1,000 for an unidentified guest to stay two nights at Donald Trump’s luxury resort Mar-a-Lago, according to an invoice obtained by transparency group Property of the People via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This payment, made with a U.S. government charge card, constitutes the first documented violation by President Trump of the Constitution’s Domestic Emoluments Clause. President Trump owns 99.99% of Mar-a-Lago, LLC directly, and the company’s profits are held in a revocable trust from which Trump may withdraw funds without restriction.
This and related documents were recently obtained via a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People as part of the organization’s Trump administration-specific transparency project,Operation 45.
The NSC invoice is the strongest evidence uncovered to date that Trump’s refusal to divest from his business empire has resulted in Trump’s violation of the Constitution’s anti-corruption Domestic Emoluments Clause. This provision prohibits the President from receiving emoluments (profitable payments, benefits, or advantages) paid by federal or state governments, beyond the salary approved by Congress.
A receipt from Donald Trump’s luxury Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago showing that the White House National Security Council was charged $1,092.00 for a guest to stay at the resort on March 3, and 4 of 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.
In the past, presidents possessing significant business holdings have divested themselves of their holdings or placed them into a blind trust prior to assuming office. President Trump, however, has adamantly refused to do either. Instead, Trump hasplaced his business empire into a revocable trust administered by his sons, a move that has been widely viewed by experts as insufficient. This trust is set up to allow Trump to withdraw any amount of money at any time for any reason “at his request.”
The released documents show that Mar-A-Lago charged the NSC full price for the rented room instead of offering the NSC a discounted rate covering only the resort’s costs. The NSC receipt lists the rate paid by the National Security Council as the “rack rate,” meaning the standard, non-discounted rate for the room. As such, the NSC’s payment to Mar-A-Lago constitutes a direct, profitable payment from a U.S. government agency to a business personally owned by Donald Trump. This is strong evidence of a violation by President Trump of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
A receipt from Donald Trump’s exclusive Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama showing that the US Embassy was charged $632.00 for a 4 night rental at the tower in June, 2017. A copy of this invoice and several others can be reviewed in full HERE.
Property of the People also obtained invoices showing payments by the United States Embassy to Trump’s hotel in Panama, and documentation of payments by unidentified federal employees to Trump’s Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas hotels. These payments were all made on official U.S. government charge cards. They were obtained through Property of the People’s FOIA request to the United States Coast Guard, which administers the charge card program for the Department of Homeland Security.
To date, discussion of the potential constitutional implications arising from Trump’s business holdings has focused primarily on the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. Three lawsuits have now been filed against President Trump alleging violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause, and legalscholars andcities across the country are already calling for Trump’s impeachment on grounds including Foreign Emoluments violations. Far less attention has paid to the Domestic Emoluments Clause. The documents just obtained by Property of the People are the first solid evidence uncovered of Trump’s violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause.
According to Property of the People Director Ryan Shapiro:
“These documents represent perhaps the clearest evidence yet that President Trump has violated the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The likely constitutional violation here belongs in any forthcoming articles of impeachment. Due to his glaring refusal to divest from his sprawling business empire, the President has no one to blame but himself.”
Shapiro and Property of the People are also calling on the Department of Justice, which has jurisdiction over potential violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause, to investigate. Says Shapiro:
“These invoices are strong evidence of a constitutional violation and they warrant a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice.”
The complete set of documents obtained by Property of the People show that:
The National Security Council paid $1,092 for a March 3-4, 2017 stay at President Trump’s luxury Palm Beach, FL golf resort, Mar-a-Lago.
The U.S. Embassy in Panama paid $632 for a March 23, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Panama City.
The Coast Guard paid $186.17 for a June 11-14, 2017 stay at Donald Trump’s Trump International Hotel & Tower in Las Vegas.
The documents obtained by Property of the People also reveal the Coast Guard paid $62.40 for food or drink at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC on June 2, 2017.
The documents were obtained in response to a FOIA request submitted by Property of the People to the United States Coast Guard. Property of the People is also pursuing the release of charge card records from other federal agencies to which the organization has submitted similar requests. These agencies include the United States Secret Service, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Patrol, the General Services Administration, and the Department of Defense.
Ryan Shapiro is the co-founder and Director of Property of the People and a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a former Research Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Shapiro is an historian of national security, the policing of dissent, and governmental transparency. Shapiro is widely known as a leading expert on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Politico describes Shapiro as “aFOIA guru at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.” Shapiro’s path-breaking FOIA work has led the FBI to declare his MIT dissertation research methodologies a threat to national security. In November 2016, Shapiro co-founded the non-profit transparency organizationProperty of the People, whose projectOperation 45 seeks transparency and accountability from the Trump Administration. Shapiro is on twitter @_rshapiro.
Property of the People and Shapiro are represented by Washington, DC based FOIA specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light. Light is on Twitter at @_lightlaw.
You can support Property of the People by donating HERE
Tonight at 9pm EST President Trump announced his new Afghanistan strategy, Global Witness’ Stephen Carter highlights what is needed for a real change in direction:
“The United States is Afghanistan’s key partner and has real potential to help break the cycle of violence there. But its continued presence will change nothing unless the US and the Afghan government also tackle the root causes of instability. That means fighting the corruption that allows insurgents and strongmen to reap the benefits of the country’s resources, and maintain their grip on power. ‘Nation-building’ in that sense is vital to what President Trump called ‘principled realism’ – not separate from it.
“Corruption is at the heart of insecurity in Afghanistan. It deeply undermines the effectiveness of Afghan forces and the legitimacy of the Afghan government, and is a huge obstacle to any realistic path to stability. Despite successive American military and political leaders acknowledging this challenge, in practice they have rarely treated it as a priority: it is ironic that it is now seen as impossible. If President Trump wants to turn Afghanistan around, there needs to be a real change in the way the US and the Afghan government’s approach governance issues, putting them on a par with military concerns and using levers of support and influence much more effectively.
“The Afghan mining sector is one obvious place to start. It is the second largest source of funding for the Taliban and a major driver of corruption and conflict. Global Witness’ own research, for example, shows how competition over illegal mining in Badakhshan has undermined the stability of an entire province and made it a hotbed of the insurgency. Despite this, basic transparency measures have yet to be put into effect, the Mining Law is missing key safeguards against corruption and conflict, and the Afghan government has struggled to produce basic information on contracts and production. The US has done relatively little to press for stronger action, even though the sector is central to hopes of building up Afghanistan’s economy – and for its ability to fund their own security forces and secure their territory without endless expenditure of American lives and money.
“Under President Ghani and CEO Abdullah the Afghan government has shown itself willing to contemplate serious reforms and to agree anti-corruption benchmarks, even if implementation has so far been slow. America has a partner in Afghanistan, but they need to seize the chance to work with them, and push hard for serious action. The call for ‘real reforms’ is welcome, but it has been made before, and is lacking specifics. President Trump’s Afghan strategy will stand or fall on how well he turns those words into action.” said Carter.
Stand With Reality, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of concerned individuals, is launching a campaign today to defend N.S.A. contractor Ms. Reality Leigh Winner against an overzealous prosecution by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Winner has been charged under the Espionage Act, a 100-year-old statute originally designed for spies and saboteurs, for allegedly giving a document vital to the public’s understanding of potential Russian interference in U.S. election systems to a news organization.
Stand With Reality believes the charge against Winner is grossly disproportionate to her alleged offense, and is designed to create a chilling effect on investigative journalism by dissuading sources from sharing information that is critical to the public interest. The group is dedicated to raising public awareness of Winner’s case, as well as the U.S. government’s persistent abuse of the Espionage Act to silence its critics and stifle journalism.
“The document Winner is alleged to have given The Intercept is vital for understanding how U.S. election systems are seriously vulnerable to hacking. It is absurd that the government is charging her under the draconian Espionage Act rather than helping states fix our country’s election security,” said Jeff Paterson, Courage to Resist project director and co-founder of Stand With Reality.
The organization aims to fully fund Winner’s legal defense team headed by attorney Titus Nichols, of the Augusta, Georgia law firm of Bell & Brigham. Stand with Reality launched a crowdfunding campaign today to cover both legal fees and public awareness efforts. “It is refreshing to know that so many people that Ms. Winner has never known have come together to offer their support and prayers for her,” notes Nichols. “Your pledge of additional support, for fees related to her case, is commendable,” he adds.
“The new Stand with Reality group means the world to me. Not only are they going to be raising money for my daughter’s legal defense, they’ll also be raising awareness. Reality won’t be forgotten, and she’ll have a whole organization behind her,” said Winner’s mother, Billie Winner-Davis, of Kingsville, Texas. The Winner Family will be closing their GoFundMe effort and directing supporters to the new Reality Winner Defense Fund hosted by Courage to Resist in collaboration with Stand with Reality. Meanwhile, the UK-based Courage Foundation is undertaking fundraising and support efforts on behalf of Winner throughout Europe.
First Look Media’s Press Freedom Defense Fund provided a grant of $50,000 which will act as a matching fund for the first $50,000 raised for this campaign between now and August 30th. First Look is the publisher of The Intercept, which published its story based on a document allegedly provided by Winner after receiving it anonymously. The Fund is committed to supporting legal fights where key principles of press freedom are at stake, including the defense of journalistic sources like Winner facing this Espionage Act charge.
Winner, 25, is an Air Force veteran and recipient of the Air Force Commendation Medal for those who have “distinguished themselves by meritorious achievement and service.” She is universally described by friends and family as a “patriot”.
She is currently being denied bail on the basis that she is a flight risk, despite assurances from her family, and their offer of their 20-acre Southern Texas ranch as collateral.
“We believe the prosecution is trying to demoralize Reality and her family by denying her bail,” said Rainey Reitman, open Internet advocate and co-founder of Stand with Reality. “They’re punishing her with months in jail, and denying her the opportunity to fully participate in her defense preparations, all before a jury hears the merits of the government’s case.”
Stand with Reality was founded by three individuals dedicated to open government, free expression, civil liberties, and the rule of law:
Jeff Paterson, a Marine veteran and web developer, has spent the last 11 years as the project director of Courage to Resist, which provides legal and advocacy assistance to military war resisters.
Trevor Timm, a lawyer and free speech advocate, is the co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which helps defend the rights of journalists and whistleblowers worldwide.
Rainey Reitman, a writer and privacy advocate, leads the advocacy team for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization, and works as a nonprofit consultant.
Washington, DC — Today, as a result of ongoing FOIA litigation, the US Department of State and Department of Homeland Security released four (4) documents to the newly formed transparency project Operation 45. Among the documents released Friday afternoon were records responsive to a November 1, 2016 letter from Senators Dianne Feinstein and Benjamin Cardin wherein the Senators call on then President Barack Obama to take immediate action against Russia for intrusions into the 2016 election, which was at the moment of their letter just over a week away.