The US secretary of state is named in the leaked ‘Paradise Papers’ files as a director of an offshore firm used in a multibillion-dollar oil and gas venture in the Middle East that became embroiled in controversy.
Tillerson was a director of Marib Upstream Services Company, incorporated in Bermuda in 1997. The company was tied to ExxonMobil, the American oil and gas corporation that Tillerson later led as chief executive. At the time, Tillerson was president of ExxonMobil’s Yemen division.
ExxonMobil and Hunt Oil, another Texas-based firm led by Tillerson’s close friend Ray Hunt, ran a $5bn venture to export 61m barrels of natural gas a year from fields in Marib, western Yemen. Hunt had discovered the fields in the mid-1980s and brought in ExxonMobil to help develop them.
Yemen later moved to nationalize the gas-drilling operation, banishing the ExxonMobil-Hunt firm when its 20-year exploration contract expired in 2005. The Texans claimed they were entitled to an extension and sued Yemen for $1.6bn. The case was arbitrated at the International Chamber of Commerce, where Yemen prevailed.
A report published last year by the campaign group Citizens for Tax Justice said ExxonMobil had at least 35 subsidiaries in tax havens such as the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands – and was holding approximately $51bn offshore while Tillerson was CEO.
A state department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.