The web of money and lies that links President-elect Donald Trump to his master in Moscow is finally starting to unravel. Trump’s Commerce Secretary pick, Wilbur Ross, is heavily invested into the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, a country that the Panama Papers confirmed is used heavily by Vladimir Putin and the Russian oligarchy for store their money, launder it clean, and evade taxes on their ill-gotten gains. Notably, Cyprus is the only EU country which has given the Russia military and navy the right to freely use their bases for operations.
Trump Cabinet nominee Wilbur Ross is the vice-chairman of the island’s largest institution, the Bank of Cyprus. This morning, Mother Jones released a detailed report detailing Trump cabinet pick Wilbur Ross’ deep ties to Cyprus, the country’s largest bank and his big gamble on a plot to extract the island’s offshore natural gas reserves.
The day Ross was nominated, the Democratic Coalition Senior Advisor Scott Dworkin tweeted that Wilbur Ross invested about $500 million dollars into the once-failed Bank of Cyprus and which bank has been run by an ex-KGB friend of Putin.
— Scott Dworkin (@funder) November 30, 2016
In fact, the Bank of Cyprus released a formal congratulations statement from Ackermann to Ross the day Trump named him as his nominee for Commerce Secretary. Probably because it was actually at Wilber Ross’ suggestion, that Josef Ackermann – the former chairman of Deutsche Bank – one of Trump’s major creditors, who is facing a massive Department of Justice settlement for misdeeds in 2008 – was named as chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman’s blog cited an FT analysis of Cyprus’ 2013 crisis resolution which called the choice ultimately made by EU regulators the equivalent of turning Cyprus into a Russian vassal state:
Cyprus now has a binary choice: become a gimp state for Russian gangsta finance, or turn fully towards Europe, close down much of its shady banking sector and rebuild its economy on something more sustainable.
Just two years after Putin bailed out Cyprus with a 2.5 billion euro loan, the country’s banking system failed again and German regulators ironically handed ownership of the Bank of Cyprus and its competitor to a group Russian oligarchs, who were its main depositors. The cost of acquisition to depositors was hefty, experts estimated that the Russian oligarchs lost 40% of the cash value of their deposits, investors got wiped out, but the depositors did get control.
Putin’s bailout of the Cyprian banks following the recession was later restructured to write off 10% of the value of the loans to Cyprus in 2013. Just after that write-down, Cyprus’s President signed a military base deal last year with Putin to host that Russia’s military forces in two of their Mediterranean ports and on from airbase in the city of Paphos. Presumably, those military stations are strategically important for the mass slaughter that Russia is perpetrating in support of fellow dictator Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.
In April, the Guardian identified Cyprus as a major waystation in Vladimir Putin’s global cash flow schemes. The data leak from Mossack Fonseca’s Panamanian offices provided numerous details of the relationship between government corruption and banking centers who launder cash, hide ownership and create jurisdictional problems to seeking justice.
Donald Trump’s choice of an American businessman with deep and meaningful ties to Vladimir Putin’s business center and the nerve center of the Russian oligarchy’s offshore tax haven creates an unprecedented Cabinet-level connection to the leadership and ruling class of a foreign superpower.
America’s Senators should absolutely not confirm Wilbur Ross given the chance.
Grant Stern is an Editor-At-Large for OccupyDemocrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition