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Watchdog Demands Criminal Probe into Possible Insider Trading by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

"We don't play around," said CREW, "our similar complaint against Trump resulted in a criminal referral to DOJ."

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is under fire for potential ethics violations, including insider trading. (Photo: NASA/Flickr/cc)

A government watchdog is calling for a criminal investigation into Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross following revelations that he potentially engaged in insider trading, among other ethics violations regarding his holdings in Invesco, his investment management firm, and its assets.

Despite assuring the Office of Government Ethics that he would divest hundreds of millions of dollars in holdings in companies including several owned by China, an automobile parts manufacturer, and a shipping enterprise with ties to Russian oligarchs, Ross maintained many investments in these corporations after being confirmed to head the Commerce Department—a serious conflict of interest as the billionaire has overseen President Donald Trump's trade policy.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Ross's agreement with the ethics office amounted to a "false statement" and whether he took part in insider trading when he bet his stock in the shipping company, Navigator Holdings, would decline in value.

Ross shorted the stock days after a reporter told him about an upcoming story about his financial holdings in the company—one likely to have a negative financial impact on the firm.

"Secretary Ross's actions reflect an apparently knowing and repeated disregard for his ethics obligations, including the obligation to meet his promise of full divestiture of all Invesco stock and to accurately report the status of his divestitures, and securities fraud laws that prohibit trading on insider information," wrote Noah Bookbinder, executive director of CREW, in his complaint to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. "The seriousness of his actions warrants an immediate and thorough investigation of the evidence that Secretary Ross knowingly and willfully misrepresented the status of his divestiture on his November 1, 2017 ethics certification and engaged in unlawful conduct."

Also being scrutinized are Ross's holdings in the International Automotive Components Group (IAC), which he created in a 2006 merger of several auto parts companies. In a joint venture with Shanghai Shenda, a textile company controlled by the Chinese government, IAC "took a 30 percent interest alongside a state-owned company named Shanghai Shenda and got roughly $300 million in cash," according to Forbes.

The deal could have created a conflict of interest as Ross oversees the Trump administration's decision-making on taxing foreign car imports.

"Ross's findings could very well be informed by his family's holdings in IAC, which will ultimately undermine whatever Ross recommends," wrote Alex Shephard at the New Republic.

"This is a very serious matter," Norm Eisen, chair of CREW, told the Washington Post. "It's even more worrying because it comes on the heels of a litany of other ethics questions and because it's part of the larger ethics crisis afflicting this administration from the president on down."

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