Ross testifies at his confirmation hearing in January. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Lloyds List, the authoritative shipping industry newsletter,
said in January that Rosss ethics disclosures suggested he was making a clean cut from Navigator by divesting from WL Ross. Mr Rosss apparent departure is to avoid conflict of interest, it said, before quoting a remark made by Ross during his Senate confirmation hearing: I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal.
Ross and the Russians
Ross built lucrative connections to Russian business during a 40-year career that banked him an estimated fortune of $2.9bn, making him comfortably the wealthiest member of Trumps cabinet.
His private equity firm, WL Ross, earned him a reputation as a ruthless corporate raider. Ross took over bankrupt companies, turned them around by slashing costs, and sold them for large profits. An early critic of free trade, who profited from tariffs to protect US steelmakers, Ross has been deputised by Trump to fulfil the presidents populist campaign promise to overhaul international trade deals.
In 2014, Ross led a 1bn takeover of the Bank of Cyprus, a favoured destination for Moscow oligarchs seeking to store their wealth. The banks biggest shareholder at the time was the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev. In 2008, as the US began to fall into a financial crisis, Rybolovlev bought a Florida mansion from Trump for $95m. The future president had paid $41m for it four years earlier.
Also invested in the bank takeover was the billionaire Russian industrialist Viktor Vekselberg. Vekselberg, who owns the worlds biggest collection of Faberg eggs, attended the now infamous December 2015 dinner in Moscow for the Kremlin TV channel RT, where Trumps future national security adviser
Michael Flynn was photographed next to Putin.
Ross sat on the senior leadership team of Bank of Cyprus alongside Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB colleague of Putins who is also on the board of several state corporations in Moscow.
And in 2015, while Ross was vice-chairman of the bank, its Russia-based businesses
were sold off to Artem Avetisyan, a Russian businessman who had been appointed by Putin to lead an agency responsible for strengthening ties between the Kremlin and business.
wrote to Ross in February demanding that he disclose the full extent of your connections to Russia. Ross did not respond. The senators also lambasted the White House for refusing to provide answers to the questions before the vote confirming Ross.
Asked around that time whether Bank of Cyprus had any customers under US sanctions during his time there, Ross told CNN: Thats a question that is very complicated to answer, adding that he had never approved any such deals.
Transactions through the bank involving Paul Manafort, Trumps former campaign chairman, are
reportedly part of the federal inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.
Ross also entered Russian markets through other industries. After WL Rosss 2005 takeover of VTG, Europes largest railcar leasing firm, the German company opened offices in Russia. Over the following years, VTG bought out other Russian firms in the sector, taking on thousands of railcars in the country. VTGs chief executive, Heiko Fischer, eventually sat with Ross on the board of Navigator.
Five offshore entities in the Cayman Islands holding VTG stock were among some 50 linked to Ross and his firm in the Paradise Papers. The firms were handled by Appleby, a legal and accounting company. One leaked file said WL Ross was among Applebys top 20 clients by total billings.
Rockas, Rosss press secretary, said: Private equity firms have a responsibility to their investors to optimize corporate structures, and Secretary Ross has decades of experience that he is now using to benefit American workers.
In May 2016, as Ross trod the campaign trail with Trump, his firm sold off the last of its holdings in VTG. The sale brought in about $420m for Rosss firm, which had not disclosed how much it paid a decade earlier.
Ross has been a trusted associate of the president since the early 1990s, when he helped to
bail out Trumps beleaguered casino portfolio in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which had left him on the verge of bankruptcy.
Ross and his wife, Hilary, own a Manhattan apartment, a home in the Hamptons and a house valued at $23m in Palm Beach, Florida. The house is a five-minute drive from Trumps private club, Mar-a-Lago, where Ross accompanied the president during weekend visits in his early weeks in office.
In April, Ross was pictured at Trumps right hand inside a makeshift situation room at the club where the president monitored
missile strikes against Syrian forces in response to the Assad regimes latest use of chemical weapons. Ross later described the strikes as after-dinner entertainment.
Trump and his team monitor missile strikes in Syria in a situation room at Mar-a-Lago. Photograph: Shealah Craighead/AP
On the day Ross was nominated to the cabinet by Trump in November last year, he and Navigator executives including David Butters, the chief executive, dined together in a private room at Manhattans Gramercy Tavern restaurant. Your interest is aligned to mine, Ross
reportedly told Butters. The US economy will grow, and Navigator will be a beneficiary.