REPORT: TRUMP’S COMMERCE SECRETARY PICK IS TOP SHAREHOLDER OF BANK USED BY KREMLIN-ALIGNED OLIGARCHS

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, tapped by President-elect Donald Trump to serve as his commerce secretary, has been the top shareholder in a Cypriot bank with deep Russian ties and investors who made their fortunes under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There’s no indication of any questionable behavior by Ross, but his partners in the bank are sure to attract scrutiny during his Senate confirmation hearing and underscore the financial orbit around Putin that intersects with figures in Trump’s campaign and administration.

Beyond the Russian ties, Bank of Cyprus’ chairman once headed Deutsche Bank, which has repeatedly run afoul of U.S. regulators and is a major lender to the Trump business empire.

Cyprus is often used by Russia’s politically connected businessmen. In a March 2013 report, McClatchy detailed how Russians had come to dominate Cyprus as both customers and providers of financial services. Russian depositors and investors took losses that year in Cyprus when the European debt crisis nearly crumbled major banks.

Ross led a September 2014 rescue of Bank of Cyprus, the largest and most important bank in that island nation off the coast of Turkey. Ross’ investment group took an 18 percent stake in the bank, and he remained the bank’s vice chairman after his nomination by Trump.

He is expected to leave the bank soon, but his investment is likely to be lucrative. The bank’s shareholders last week approved taking it public, offering shares to investors on the London Stock Exchange at a price that could mean strong returns for existing shareholders. Last spring, European Union leaders announced that Cyprus had exited the rescue program for ailing banks, using only three-quarters of the billions offered.

The second largest shareholder in Bank of Cyprus is a Russian conglomerate called Renova Corp., which is headed by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire and associate of Putin who served on the management board of Russian oil giant Rosneft, which was under U.S. financial sanctions in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

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