Rex Tillerson, the ExxonMobil chief picked by President-elect Donald Trump to be the next secretary of state, was already going to have to answer tough questions in confirmation hearings about his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Now come leaked documents that suggest Tillerson’s relationship with Putin and the Kremlin is even cozier than initially known. Documents from 2001 that were first obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, show that Tillerson was a director of ExxonMobil’s Russian subsidiary, the Bahamas-based Exxon Neftegas, starting in 1998.
His name appears on the official registry from Nassau, Bahamas dated May 22, 2001 as one of the program’s three Directors. Three years ago the CEO of the world’s largest oil company received the Order of Friendship from Putin.
The information about Tillerson’s directorship had never been reported before and will add another wrinkle to what promises to already be a contentious affair considering the FBI and CIA findings that Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election.
Critics contend Tillerson is too close to Putin and that his appointment would raise potential conflicts of interest. According to the Guardian, Tillerson has Exxon stock worth more than $200 million, and that ExxonMobil has long been eyeing Russia’s vast oil and gas deposits.
Tillerson has been critical of U.S. policy against Russia, and in 2014, according to the Guardian, he told Exxon’s annual meeting that “we do not support sanctions,” adding, “We always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who they are really harming.”
A Trump administration is widely viewed as one that will end U.S. sanctions on Russia. If sanctions are dropped, Tillerson and ExxonMobil stand to gain substantially. The appointment of Tillerson is not seen as a partisan endeavor. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle share concerns with this relationship with Putin and Kremlin.