As President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson prepares for his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday, questions about the oil executive’s business activities with terrorist safe-havens Iran, Syria, and Sudan have emerged, potentially placing Tillerson’s confirmation in jeopardy. According to a report by USA Today, “ExxonMobil did business with Iran,
Sales to Iran and other state-sponsors of terrorism were reportedly conducted via a European subsidiary established by the American petrol company.
“The sales were conducted in 2003, 2004 and 2005 by Infineum, in which ExxonMobil owned a 50% share,” reports USA Today, citing SEC documents discovered by Democratic Super PAC American Bridge, a company which specializes in opposition research against Republicans.
SEC filings from 2006 show that the European subsidiary conducted about $53.2 million in sales to Iran from 2003-2005. During the same period, Infineum had $1.1 million in sales to Syria, a Shia-friendly client state of Iran, and $600,000 in sales to Sudan, a country whose government has been accused of harboring terrorists and committing war crimes over the last few decades. All three countries have been labeled as state-sponsors of terrorism and have been subjected to strict economic sanctions by the US Treasury Department.
When Exxon’s dealings with Iran became known to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company insisted that Infineum was a joint venture with the Shell corporation, adding that the European subsidiary didn’t employ any US employees.
But SEC’s letter to Exxon questioned not only the company’s failure to disclose its foreign dealings with its shareholders but the impact of such dealings on its reputation.
These controversial decisions have “the potential impact of corporate activities upon a company`s reputation and share value,” stated the SEC, arguing that there are more things to consider than just the bottom line.
Avoiding the question of the company's reputation, Exxon responded to the regulatory agency with a technical argument about the legality of its business.
Infineum’s business was conducted “under a policy and procedure consistent with U.S. legal requirements and no United States person is involved in those business transactions,” wrote Richard Gutman, the company’s assistant general counsel at the time.
Exxon officials again parroted this response when questioned by USA Today.
“These are all legal activities complying with the sanctions at the time," media manager Alan Jeffers told the publication. "We didn’t feel they were material because of the size of the transactions.
Tillerson has began a fixture at Mobil for roughly two decades.
“He became a senior vice president at ExxonMobil in August 2001, president and director in March 2004 and chairman and chief executive on Jan. 1, 2006,” reports USA Today.
Since his nomination, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have questioned Tillerson’s fitness to serve as America’s chief diplomat.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues across the aisle, including Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) have led the charge against the polarizing oil executive, highlighting Tillerson’s close financial relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a potential conflict of interest ad national security issue.
“ExxonMobil did business with Iran, Syria and Sudan through a European subsidiary while President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of State was a top executive of the oil giant and those countries were under U.S. sanctions as state sponsors of terrorism."
Tillerson has met with Putin personally, most notably in 2008 at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Russia’s answer to the World Economic Forum.
In addition, “Tillerson put together an energy partnership with Russia in 2011 that Putin has estimated could end up worth $500 billion,” according to Vox. “In 2012, Tillerson was awarded an “Order of Friendship” decoration from the Russian government, and he’s been photographed smiling next to Putin.”