March 10, 2017

Udall, Booker, Markey, Blumenthal, Baldwin Urge Secretary Ross to Respond to Unanswered Questions on Russian Banking Ties

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) led a letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross urging him to respond to unanswered questions regarding his banking ties to Russia, and asking additional questions about possible Russian connections and Ross’ severing ties with the Bank of Cyprus. Joining Udall and Booker on the letter were fellow Senate Commerce Committee members U.S. Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

On February 16, 2017, Udall, Booker and these colleagues sent a letter to then nominee Ross requesting answers to questions on his banking ties to Russia. 

Today, the senators wrote, “We are writing to seek written answers to questions posed to you in letters dated February 16, 2017 and February 24, 2017, regarding your position as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Cyprus, as well as information you may be in a position to provide regarding contacts between Russian interests and the Trump presidential campaign and the Trump Organization.”

“As previously undisclosed contacts between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials have been revealed, we believe it is important for the public to know the full extent of relationships that may exist between the Russian Federation and members of the President’s Cabinet. The continued absence of a written response to our questions is alarming and raises new questions about the links between the Russian government, the Bank of Cyprus, and the Trump business and political apparatus,” the senators continued.

“As a Members of the U.S. Senate, we have a constitutional responsibility to exercise proper oversight on issues regarding the executive branch. We are disappointed with the lack of a written response to the two previous letters requesting information necessary to perform our jobs and expect a written response to our questions by March 24, 2017,” the senators concluded.

The full text of the letter can be viewed here and below.

March 10, 2017

The Honorable Wilbur Ross
Secretary
Office of the Secretary
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Secretary Ross:

We are writing to seek written answers to questions posed to you in letters dated February 16, 2017 and February 24, 2017, regarding your position as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Cyprus, as well as information you may be in a position to provide regarding contacts between Russian interests and the Trump presidential campaign and the Trump Organization.

As previously undisclosed contacts between the Trump presidential campaign and Russian officials have been revealed, we believe it is important for the public to know the full extent of relationships that may exist between the Russian Federation and members of the President’s Cabinet. The continued absence of a written response to our questions is alarming and raises new questions about the links between the Russian government, the Bank of Cyprus, and the Trump business and political apparatus.

Our questions from the February 16 letter are rooted in an interest to better understand you or your associates knowledge or awareness of contacts between the Bank of Cyprus and anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign or Trump Organization; loans made directly or indirectly by the Bank of Cyprus to the Trump Organization; and efforts by the Bank of Cyprus to directly or indirectly influence the 2016 presidential election.

In addition, the questions from the February 24 letter seek to better understand you or your associates’ relationships with key shareholders in the Bank of Cyprus, specifically Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, Dmitry Rybolovlev, and Viktor Vekselberg. We request this information given their ties to both President Putin and the Bank of Cyprus. We also seek clarity regarding your or your associates’ relationship with Josef Ackermann, a banker with ties to both President Putin and criminal activity[1] whom you appointed to be the Bank of Cyprus’ Chairman of the Board[2].

In addition to receiving answers to these questions, we seek written responses to the following:
1. Did you meet with the Russian ambassador or any other Russian government or business representatives at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016? If so, please detail these meetings including the persons involved and the topics discussed.
2. Have you ever met with any Russian investors or business representatives at Mar-a-Lago? If so, was Donald Trump or any member of the Trump family, Trump campaign, or the Trump Organization present?
3. Please describe the nature and current status of your investment in the Bank of Cyprus, including the terms of the investment, the amount of money involved, and any other key details.

4. Please explain how you came to assume a leadership role at the Bank of Cyprus. Please identify, by name, job title, and affiliation, who approached you and whom you dealt with at the bank, what understandings were reached, and the date on which you first took the position.

5. Once you assumed a leadership role at the Bank of Cyprus, please identify, by name, job title, and affiliation, the key persons of the Bank of Cyprus’ Leadership team, including the Board of Directors and General Management team[3], who assisted you in performing your duties, including any lawyer, bank official or employee, or company employee from one of your own companies.

6. It is widely reported that a number of major Russian financial services and energy companies have had financial dealings with Cypriot banks within the past decade. During your time at the Bank of Cyprus, was the Bank involved with any individuals or entities placed under U.S. financial sanctions? To your knowledge, was the Bank involved with any individuals or entities implicated in Russia’s annexation of Crimea or in the financial support of Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine?

7. Your January 15, 2017, agreement with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics stated your intent to resign from the Bank of Cyprus upon confirmation, and to completely divest from any ownership interest within 90 days of confirmation.[4] Have you formally resigned your Board position at the Bank of Cyprus? Also, what steps have you taken so far in the divesting process? Do you anticipate meeting the 90 day deadline imposed by the Office of Government Ethics for divestiture of all assets in the Bank of Cyprus? And will you commit to recusing yourself from matter involving the Bank of Cyprus or its major stakeholders?

As a Members of the U.S. Senate, we have a constitutional responsibility to exercise proper oversight on issues regarding the executive branch. We are disappointed with the lack of a written response to the two previous letters requesting information necessary to perform our jobs and expect a written response to our questions by March 24, 2017.