Washington (AFP) - US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday said he would sell all his remaining equity holdings after the government's federal ethics agency said his failure to divest some assets "created the potential for a serious criminal violation."
Ross released a letter from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on Thursday which said he failed to report certain investments that could create a conflict of interest.
The OGE said it had not identified any deliberate intention to conceal the investments.
But, it pointed out that "even inadvertent errors" regarding ethics compliance can "undermine public trust in both you and the overall ethics program."
It added Ross "created the potential for a serious criminal violation" of conflict of interest law.
Ross acknowledged in a statement that he had "made inadvertent errors in completing the divestitures required by my ethics agreement," adding that his investments were "complex and included hundreds of items."
"To maintain the public trust, I have directed that all of my equity holdings be sold and the proceeds placed in U.S. Treasury securities," he said.
The case came to light in June when Forbes magazine reported that Ross -- a multimillionaire who made his fortune in energy and steel -- had financial ties with Chinese state-owned enterprises and had transferred his interests to family members.
Forbes reported that the transfers were not illegal -- but indicated Ross would have been lying by stating he had ended all investments in November 2017, in keeping with his government commitments, while he held more than $10 million in shares in investment company Invesco.
The administration of US President Donald Trump is currently locked in a protectionist trade war with several countries including China -- a policy that Ross, among others, has worked to implement.