President-elect Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, was a director of Exxon's Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas, from its founding in 1998 until 2006, The Guardian reported Sunday, citing documents leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. The company is one of 67 registered by ExxonMobil in the Bahamas, a country with laws that favor corporate secrecy and a corporate tax rate of zero. Tillerson's name, RW Tillerson, is listed next to other officers from Houston, Moscow, and the far-eastern Russian island of Sakhalin.
Tillerson's role in the Russian-U.S. oil company doesn't break any laws, but it highlights his close ties to Russia's power elite (skewered by SNL), including President Vladimir Putin — who awarded him the Order of Friendship — and especially Igor Sechin, the former KGB agent who heads Russian state oil company Rosneft. Sechin is personally targeted under the sanctions the Obama administration enacted against Russia after it annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014; Tillerson publicly opposed the sanctions, which also hurt ExxonMobil's business partnerships with Russia. "ExxonMobil's use of offshore regimes — while legal — may also jar with Trump's avowal to put 'America first,'" The Guardian speculates.
Tillerson's confirmation rests first of all with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is split 10-9 between Republicans and Democrats, with two of the majority Republicans expressing skepticism about Tillerson's close dealings with Russia — especially when combined with the Kremlin ties or public sympathies of several top members of Trump's campaign and incoming administration, including Trump's pick for national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The newest Trump selection, David Friedman for ambassador to Israel, also wrote a flattering article about Putin a year ago. If confirmed, Tillerson is expected to sell off his $218 million worth of Exxon stock.