WASHINGTON • US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has exaggerated his personal wealth and is not in fact a billionaire, a leading business magazine reported on Tuesday.
The report by Forbes also accused Mr Ross of serial dishonesty and was more unwelcome publicity for the Trump ally after leaked files this week showed he retained business interests tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle even after taking office.
A year ago, Forbes listed Mr Ross among the richest Americans, putting his net worth at US$2.9 billion (S$3.9 billion).
But after examining public disclosure forms that Mr Ross filed as part of his confirmation process for the Commerce post this year, Forbes estimated his wealth at under US$700 million.
After a month-long investigation, Forbes found that about US$2 billion Mr Ross claimed was held in family trusts never existed. He had said he was not required to disclose the funds held in trust in the federal filings.
Mr Ross inflated his wealth in communications with the magazine stretching back more than a decade when he first made the vaunted Forbes global list of billionaires, the report said.
"It seems clear that Mr Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004," the magazine said.
The report said the review of Mr Ross' business history uncovered a pattern of dishonesty extending to investors and colleagues that resulted in millions in fines and funds returned to investors, and frequent litigation.
A Commerce Department spokesman dismissed the conclusions in the magazine.
"The Forbes article cites former employees, without full knowledge, and all but one anonymously - we will not respond further," the spokesman said in an e-mail.
Mr Ross' financial disclosure documents "were compiled by legal counsel and accountants. The relevant rules were followed, and the documents were closely reviewed and approved by ethics officials at the Department of Commerce and the Office of Government Ethics", he added.