Commerce Secretary Ross admits ethical lapses in asset reporting

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday admitted ethical lapses in reporting on his financial assets and said he would sell all of his remaining stocks after receiving a critical letter from the federal ethics agency.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a Senate Finance hearing on “Current and Proposed Tariff Actions Administered by the Department of Commerce” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“I have made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement,” Ross said in a statement.

“To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities,” he said.

A letter from the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) sent to Ross on Thursday noted “various omissions and inaccurate statements” in disclosure and compliance documents submitted in the past year.

It said the billionaire investor had reported two sales of Invesco Ltd stock in 2017 after the date by which he had agreed to divest his holdings.

“You also opened new short positions on various holdings that you committed to divesting in your Ethics Agreement, in contravention of that agreement,” the OGE letter said.

In the ethics agreement published in January last year, Ross vowed to sell shares in Invesco valued at up to $50 million.

He also pledged to divest financial interests in some 80 entities, including ownership stakes in companies and investment partnerships, stocks and bonds to avoid conflicts of interest.

The OGE said an investigation by an ethics official at the Commerce Department found no indication of violation of primary conflict of interest law.

“However, your failure to divest created the potential for a serious criminal violation on your part and undermined public confidence,” it said.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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