Trump Sec. of State Pick Rex Tillerson Headed US-Russia Oil Firm [UPDATED]

rex tillerson putin

Russian politicians are cheering Trump’s secretary of state pick Rex Tillerson. Why? Here’s what we know so far about Tillerson’s Russia ties …

aNewDomain — Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief who Donald Trump has tapped to be the next US secretary of state, was the director of a Bahamas-based US-Russian oil firm, according to leaked documents in the Panama Papers.

Tillerson ended the association with the Exxon subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, in 2001, Exxon rep Scott Silvestri said Monday, a day after the Guardian and reporters at the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported the news.

As you can see in the document below, Tillerson’s name is listed alongside the firm’s other execs who are based in Houston, Moscow and Sakhalin, Russia.

Rex Tillerson: Director of US-Russia Oil Firm’s Exxon Neftegas BOD by Gina Smith on Scribd

The document is from the corporate registry in the Bahamas, one of more than 1.3 million files leaked anonymously to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung that comprise the so-called Panama Papers.

The database of documents, which originated from the internal files of Panamian law firm Mossack Fonseca, includes paperwork on more than 320,000 offshore companies. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, together with The Guardian and the ICIJ, has made the documents publicly available here.

Exxon Neftegas features in about 25 leaked offshore documents, say ICIJ reports. Also, according to the database, ExxonMobil created 67 Bahamas-based companies, operations with linked interests to Russia, Venezuela and Azerbaijan, among others.

A conflict of interest?

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-4-11-39-pmThe information about Tillerson’s role in the US Russia oil firm arrives as the ExxonMobil CEO prepares for what many believe will be a contentious confirmation hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

Tillerson’s links with Russia are especially relevant now that the CIA says Kremlin hackers stole emails they hacked from the Democratic National Committee during the election and publicized them via Wikileaks. According to reports, Putin was motivated to influence the election because he had it out for Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.

“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said last week, before the Tillerson’s role as director of the US-Russia firm came to light.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who also sits on the committee charged with confirming Tillerson, said he thought the new secretary of state “must be someone who views the world with moral clarity has a clear sense of America’s interests.”

Tillerson currently holds an estimated $218 million in Exxon stock, and the value of that stock obviously is affected by State Department policies on, for instance, Russia sanctions and climate change.

rex tillerson vladmir putin tillerson russia tiesIn particular, Tillerson’s ties to specific power brokers inside the Kremlin have been the focus of most concern. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “friends and associates said few US citizens are closer to Mr Putin than Mr Tillerson.” The two have known each other, according to reports, since about 1999.

In 2013, Putin gave Tillerson the Russian Order of Friendship medal, a state decoration for foreigners whose work improves their countries’ relations with Moscow. That award followed ExxonMobil’s 2011 deal with Russian firm Rosneft to look for oil below Russia’s Kara Sea.

That deal was stopped in its tracks in 2014, after Pres. Barack Obama imposed economic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Obama put in place personal sanctions against the ex-KGB head of Roseneft, Igor Sechin, prohibiting him from entering the US.

Many believe that the Trump administration will reverse sanctions against Russia, however. Such an eventuality would let Exxon’s Kara Sea joint venture to resume, which would boost Exxon’s share price and yield profits in the billions to ExxonMobile.

At an economic forum in St Petersburg earlier this year, Tillerson called Sechin “my friend.” And the admiration is mutual, it seems. Sechin told stockholders in 2014 that one of his ambitions was someday to“ride the roads in the United States on motorcycles with Tillerson.”

In 2014, Tillerson told execs at Exxon’s annual meeting that “we do not support sanctions,” adding that ” we always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who they are really harming.”

rex tillerson pushkin tweet tillerson connection to sechin putin“The selection of Tillerson is sensational. Trump continues to amaze,” Alexei Pushkov, a senior Russian senator, tweeted after Trump announced he was tapping Tillerson for the Secretary of State post earlier this month.

And another pro-Kremlin voice, Sergei Markov, put Trump’s selection in seasonal terms, telling the The Wall Street Journal that Trump’s choice of Tillerson as secretary of state was “a sort of Christmas gift from the American people to the Russian people.”

For aNewDomain, I’m Larry Press.

Cover image of Tillerson with Russian president Vladimir Putin: Tass. Inside image of Tillerson, Putin and Krasnodar governor Alexander Tkachev, at the signing of the deal  between Rosneft and Exxon Mobil, by: Mikhail Klimentyev/European Pressphoto Agency.

Editor: An earlier version of this story ran Sunday on Larry Press’ CIS471 blog. Check it out here.

About the author

Larry Press

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills and a senior editor covering tech issues here at aNewDomain.net. Check his Google+ profile to contact him or see what else he is up to: http://bit.ly/viXqr4.