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, Securities and Exchange Commission filings show.
That business connection is likely to surface Wednesday at a confirmation hearing for ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The sales were conducted in 2003, 2004 and 2005 by Infineum, in which ExxonMobil owned a 50% share, according to SEC documents unearthed by American Bridge, a Democratic research group.
ExxonMobil told USA TODAY the transactions were legal because Infineum, a joint venture with Shell Corporation, was based in Europe and the transactions did not involve any U.S. employees.
The filings, from 2006, show that the company had $53.2 million in sales to Iran, $600,000 in sales to Sudan and $1.1 million in sales to Syria during those three years.
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.
The SEC letter questioned ExxonMobil’s failure to disclose to shareholders that it had transactions with three state sponsors of terrorism. Decisions to make such disclosures should be based on “the potential impact of corporate activities upon a company`s reputation and share value,” and not simply the monetary value of the transactions, the SEC said.
Compared to Exxon’s overall annual revenue of $371 billion, “these transactions are not material by any reasonable measure,” Richard Gutman, ExxonMobil’s assistant general counsel at the time, wrote in response to an SEC inquiry regarding the transactions. He did not address the SEC's concerns about the impact on the oil company's reputation
Infineum’s European affiliates manage business transactions in those three countries “under a policy and procedure consistent with U.S. legal requirements and no United States person is involved in those business transactions,” Gutman wrote. The subsidiary has offices in the United States, United Kingdom and Singapore.
“These are all legal activities complying with the sanctions at the time," Alan Jeffries, media manager at ExxonMobil, told USA TODAY. "We didn’t feel they were material because of the size of the transactions.”
“They (Infineum) have an independent management that operates the entity. And it’s not a U.S. entity,” Jeffries said.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said he was “deeply skeptical about Mr. Tillerson’s actions as CEO of Exxon that were in direct contravention to express United States policies put in place to secure Americans and our country."
"Finding loopholes to make lucrative business deals with geo-political adversaries, while showing no clear regard for U.S. national interests, is not a resume builder for a prospective diplomat-in-chief," Menendez said in a statement to USA TODAY. "This is one of the many issues I look forward to hearing more about during the upcoming confirmation hearings.”