- U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross arrives at a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017.
- European officials accuse Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of insider trading in a report on the 2011 Euro banking crisis.
- The report alleges Ross sold his stake in the Bank of Ireland at the top, knowing about accounting issues at the company.
- Ross hasn’t been charged with any official complaint, as far as we know.
- This continues a pattern of less than savory financial dealing from the Commerce Secretary.
In a report reviewing the worst excesses of the European banking crisis, Irish politicians are accusing US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of insider trading. Mother Jones has the full report.
The accusation is quite simple. Ross, through his investment firm WL Ross & Co., took a near 35% stake in the Bank of Ireland in 2011, during the depths of the crisis. In 2012, he joined the company’s board of directors, but by 2014 he was selling his stake.
He made 500 million euros ($682 million), selling his shares at 26 to 33 euro cents a share over a few months. Ross stepped down from WL Ross & Co. – which is currently being sued by former employees for fee gouging – when he joined the Trump administration.
That would all be fine if it weren’t for the fact that it was later found that the Bank of Ireland was using deceptive accounting to make its balance sheet appear healthier than it was. Without that, Ross would not have been able to sell his shares at such a premium.
This alleged deception was discovered in 2015, shortly after Ross sold his stake, and of course the bank’s stock price suffered as a result. Ross, who as a board member, should have been familiar with the going-ons at the company, especially after doing due diligence and selling at the top.
And, if in the course of doing due diligence, he found out that there was something wrong with the bank’s accounting, he had a duty to report that to shareholders. If he didn’t, and he sold with that knowledge, as the report points out, that is a violation of insider trading laws.
From the EU report (emphasis ours):
“In 2011 Bank of Ireland admitted that it allowed US investor Wilbur Ross and other major funds to carry out due diligence on its assets Mr Ross therefore had access to the loss details that Bank of Ireland kept hidden from retail shareholders.
Between 2011 and 2014 Mr Ross is reported to have made Euro 477 million from the purchase and sale of Bank of Ireland shares. Retail shareholders were denied this opportunity, which suggests that they were oppressed, or in plain English, the profit that Mr Ross accumulated was largely at their expense.
Bank of Ireland confirmed that it offered the shares on preferential terms. It follows that Wilbur Ross would have seen details of the losses that Bank of Ireland failed to reveal…
Mr Ross appears to have been aware of the flawed accounting model as used by Bank of Ireland. In January 2016, his name was mentioned in a court case.
Ocwen, a US financial corporation was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Council. Like Bank of Ireland. it used a variant of the flaw in IAS 39 to hide losses. This led to shareholders being misinformed and suffering losses. Ocwen used the ‘amortised cost’ method of accounting to value certain distressed mortgages.”
By the way, Ross, who was on the board of Ocwen, settled an insider trading case related to accounting impropriety at that company without admitting wrongdoing. It is, of course, worth noting that Ross hasn’t been charged with anything yet and it’s not clear if European regulators will do anything at all. In the US, insider trading is also illegal but often settled without anyone admitting to a crime.
This should all sound familiar
In a statement to the press, Mr. Ross said that the Mother Jones story “is a factually incorrect effort to smear me.” He also said the EU report was commissioned by leftist members of the EU parliament.
“The shares purchased by WL Ross Funds, and also by Fidelity Funds, Capital Research, Fairfax, and Kennedy Wilson, were the unsubscribed portion of a rights offering made available to the Irish Government and public shareholders on the preferential terms,” he said. “We bought them at the same price they were offered to those other public shareholders. The government at the time had designated a majority of the Board of Directors and was the largest shareholder.”
Ross went on to say that the “world class” bankers who put together the deal, and PWC, the accounting firm who did the auditing of The Bank of Ireland’s accounting did their duty and their due diligence. He insisted there were no “confessions” of accounting impropriety discovered at the bank in 2015.
“If there actually had been a confession of accounting wrongdoing in 2015, it would have had to be reflected in the financials,” he explained, potentially forgetting that we all lived through the financial crisis. “The report also brings in the Ocwen litigation, an irrelevance at best. That case was settled at no cost to me and I never even was called to appear in court. It clearly was mentioned as a smear to imply that I had done something wrong-this is simply not the case.”
Are you not entertained?
Ross is a funny little man. This year, it was revealed that he’s been lying to Forbes for years in order to make himself look richer than he is so he could appear on the Forbes 400 list of richest people.
He had to amend his claims of vast wealth (he’s still rich, don’t worry guys) when there was a large gap between the assets he reported to the government to become Commerce Secretary, and what he told Forbes. Why he lied is anyone’s guess. Feelings of inadequacy are common on Wall Street, though when they’re made public in such a spectacularly embarrassing fashion, everyone acts – at least publicly – as if its the first time they’ve heard of billionaire insecurity.
Or, in the case, we should call it multi-millionaire insecurity.
Then, there’s that embarrassing matter of his ongoing business ties to Vladimir Putin’s son in law, Russian billionaire Kirill Shamanov. This is all through a shipping company called Navigator, in which Ross owns a stake. It does business with Shibur, a Russian gas company partly owned by Shamanov.
According to The Guardian, Navigator made $68 million off a deal with Shibur, starting in 2014. That, of course, was when the US put sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Some of Shibur’s owners are sanctioned by the US government, though Shamanov is not.