Though Foremost has played a pivotal role in McConnell’s life, bestowing the senator with most of his personal wealth and generating thousands in donations to his campaign committees, the drug bust went unnoticed in Kentucky, where every bit of McConnell-related news has generated fodder for the campaign trail. That’s because, like many international shipping companies, Chao’s firm is shrouded from public view, concealing its identity and limiting its legal liability through an array of tax shelters and foreign registrations. Registered through a limited liability company in the Marshall Islands, the Ping May flies the Liberian flag.

From the Nation article: Mitch McConnell’s Freighted Ties to a Shadowy Shipping Company

Well this is interesting. Particularly with the Senate Majority Leader (and major Republican establishment crony) fighting for his life in the Kentucky Senate race.

From the Nation:

Before the Ping May, a rusty cargo vessel, could disembark from the port of Santa Marta en route to the Netherlands in late August, Colombian inspectors boarded the boat and made a discovery. Hidden in the ship’s chain locker, amidst its load of coal bound for Europe, were approximately 40 kilograms, or about 90 pounds, of cocaine. A Colombian Coast Guard official told The Nation that there is an ongoing investigation.

The seizure of the narcotics shipment in the Caribbean port occurred far away from Kentucky, the state in which Senator Mitch McConnell is now facing a career-defining election. But the Republican Senate minority leader has the closest of ties to the owner of the Ping May, the vessel containing the illicit materials: the Foremost Maritime Corporation, a firm founded and owned by McConnell’s in-laws, the Chao family.

Though Foremost has played a pivotal role in McConnell’s life, bestowing the senator with most of his personal wealth and generating thousands in donations to his campaign committees, the drug bust went unnoticed in Kentucky, where every bit of McConnell-related news has generated fodder for the campaign trail. That’s because, like many international shipping companies, Chao’s firm is shrouded from public view, concealing its identity and limiting its legal liability through an array of tax shelters and foreign registrations. Registered through a limited liability company in the Marshall Islands, the Ping May flies the Liberian flag.

McConnell’s ties to the Chaos go back to the late 1980s, when James Chao began donating to the senator. In 1993, McConnell married James’s daughter, Elaine Chao, a Republican activist and then-former Reagan administration official who would later serve as Secretary ofLabor in the George W. Bush cabinet. James Chao emigrated to the United States from Taiwan, and founded the Foremost Maritime Corporation upon settling in New York. The company has grown significantly over the years, from acting as maritime agent during the Vietnam War to controlling a fleet of approximately 16 dry bulk cargo ships in operation today.

Nothing like a neo-feudal love story to make the eyes well up.

The firm, however, leaves a faint online trace. Foremost’s website FMCNY.com is blank. 

Records and court documents obtained by The Nation show that the ownership of the company’s vessels—with names such as Ping May, Soya May, Fu May, and Grain May—is obscured through a byzantine structure of tax entities. Most of Foremost’s vessels are flagged in Liberia, which ensures that crew members of Foremost’s ships work under Liberia’s maritime labor laws, which critics note allow for intimidation in the workplace and few protections for labor unions. In addition, a Liberian “flag of convenience” allows ship owners to pay lower tonnage taxes than ships that fly the U.S. flag. Maritime companies have increasingly used the Marshall Islands to register their vessels. The jurisdiction boasts of “no taxation, lax regulation, and no requirements for disclosure of many corporate details—even to the United States government,” according to a report in the World Policy Journal.

The recent seizure of cocaine on a Foremost coal ship came as authorities in Colombia have stepped up anti-drug trafficking enforcement in the region. The Nation spoke to Luis Gonzales, an official with the Colombian Coast Guard in Santa Marta, who told us that the Ping May’s crew were questioned as part of an ongoing investigation, but that no charges have yet been filed. His team found the cocaine in forty separate packages.

The Republican Senate minority leader’s personal wealth grew seven-fold over the last ten years thanks in large part to a gift given to him and his wife in 2008 from James Chao worth between $5 million and $25 million (Senate ethics forms require personal finance disclosures in ranges of amounts, rather than specific figures). The gift helped the McConnells after their stock portfolio dipped in the wake of the financial crisis that year, and ensured they could pay off more than $100,000 in mortgage debt on their Washington home.

The generous gift made McConnell one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, with a net worth averaging around $22.8 million, according to the Washington Post’s review of his financial disclosures.

Just in case you didn’t think these sorts of relationships have a direct effect on U.S. foreign policy, think again…

The ties between McConnell and his in-laws have come under scrutiny before. In 2001, they were probed in depth by The New Republic in an article that charged that McConnell led an effort to soften his party’s criticism of China. Through James Chao, who was a classmate of Jiang Zemin, the president of China in the 90s, McConnell and his wife met with Jiang several times, both in Beijing and in Washington. McConnell subsequently tempered his criticism of Chinese human rights abuses, and broke with hawks like Senator Jesse Helms to support Most Favored Nation trading status with China. 

As Foremost established closer ties with mainland China, McConnell endorsed the position that the United States should remain “ambiguous” about coming to the defense of Taiwan. In 1999, McConnell and his wife appeared at the University of Louisville with Chinese Ambassador Li Zhaoxing. Li used the opportunity to bash congressional leaders for rebuking China over its repression of the Falun Gong religious sect. “Any responsible government will not foster evil propensities of cults by being over-lenient,” Li reportedly said at the event with McConnell and Chao. Rather than distance himself from the remarks, McConnell reportedly spoke about his “good working relationship” with Li.

Requests for comment to the McConnell team about the Ping May cocaine incident have gone unanswered.

McConnell has positioned himself over the years as a tough on drugs politician. In 1996, McConnell was the sole sponsor of the Enhanced Marijuana Penalties Act, a bill to increase the mandatory minimum sentencing for those caught with certain amounts of marijuana. Apress release noted that his bill would make “penalties for selling marijuana comparable to those for selling heroin and cocaine.”

In recent weeks, McConnell has touted his role in calling for more federal money to be used for drug enforcement.

Readers of Liberty Blitzkrieg will know that I do not think there is such a thing as a “victimless crime,” and I am completely against the government led “war on drugs,” “war on terrorism” and “war on poverty.” Whenever the state declares “war” on something, you naturally get more of it.

All that said, the article above gives voters some important information on McConnell, particularly with regard to how the source of his wealth and his family ties actively impact his policy choices in Washington.

Like the Democratic Party leadership, the Republican Party establishment consists of a cadre of cronies merely trying to enrich themselves. McConnell is a huge part of the problem, and the American public should know more about him.

Don’t forget this post from 2012: Senate Leader McConnell Fighting AGAINST Campaign Finance Reform.


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