Ross to Sell Equity Investments, Cites Inadvertent Errors

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says he will divest himself of all of his stock holdings.


Photo:

Win McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross

agreed Thursday to sell all of his equity investments after acknowledging that he failed to sell some holdings as required by ethics agreements.

Mr. Ross said he made “inadvertent errors” due to a “complex” portfolio stemming from his long career as a private-equity investor. The government’s top ethics watchdog, the Office of Government Ethics, had told him that the errors undermined public trust and that some transactions could have placed him “in a position to run afoul of the primary criminal conflict of interest law.”

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

David Apol,

acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, wrote in a letter dated Thursday.

Mr. Ross, who sold his company to Invesco Ltd. in 2006, maintained Invesco stock that was worth between $10 million and $50 million when he sold it in December, despite indicating earlier that he would sell those shares, the ethics watchdog wrote. Mr. Ross wrote on ethics forms that his continued ownership of Invesco was a mistake. He thought he had sold all of his shares before becoming commerce secretary but hadn’t.

The commerce secretary said he would divest himself of all of his stock holdings and invest the proceeds in U.S. Treasury bonds. It wasn’t immediately clear what that would involve. Mr. Ross sold his interest in several private-equity funds in October valued at between $7.5 million and $36 million.

In June, he sold stock in

Air Lease
Corp.

valued at between $50,000 and $100,000. The Air Lease shares were a benefit from serving on the company’s board that he hadn’t known about, he wrote in an ethics form made public July 3.

Mr. Ross also last year sold short the shares of at least two companies,

Navigator Holdings
Ltd.

and Sun Bancorp Inc., according to ethics forms. The transactions, which were only made public in June, sparked criticism because Mr. Ross, as a high-ranking government official, could have access to inside information that would inform his trades.

The commerce secretary said the short sales were attempts to quickly rid himself of stock that he found out he owned but couldn’t immediately access.

“My investments were complex and included hundreds of items,” Mr. Ross said in a statement late Thursday. “I self-reported each error, and worked diligently with my department’s ethics officials to make sure I avoided any conflicts of interest.”

Write to Dave Michaels at dave.michaels@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 13, 2018, print edition as ‘Ross to Sell Investments, Cites Errors.’