President Barack Obama on Monday highlighted Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's investments in overseas companies, a rare jab at Romney's personal wealth during a debate that largely centered on foreign policy issues and domestic military spending.
Asked about the effectiveness of his administration's Iran nuclear sanctions, Obama took a swipe directly at the former Massachusetts governor, saying "The fact is, while we were coordinating an international coalition to make sure these sanctions were effective, [Romney was] still invested in a Chinese state oil company that was doing business with the Iranian oil sector."
Obama was right, but according to a recent tally by Mother Jones, the president actually underestimated the scale of investment by Romney's trusts in the country the former Massachusetts governor has pledged to label "a currency manipulator" on his first day in office.
While Obama cited only one oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, the Romneys' 2010 and 2011 tax returns show investments in at least 10 Chinese companies, a total investment of at least $391,800.
Among them were New Oriental Education and Technology, a company in which the Romneys' blind trusts invested nearly $60,000. New Oriental is famous for stealing copyrighted U.S. academic tests, and was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by a Chinese court for it.
In what could prove an awkward point for Romney post-debate, the issue of intellectual property theft came up repeatedly on Monday, and Romney railed against the Chinese, who, he said "are stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods."
Other Chinese companies the Romneys' trusts have invested in include Youku.com and Tencent Holdings -- two huge Internet companies -- and Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing, an Asian stock exchange holding company that the Romneys nearly doubled their money on.
"I want a great relationship with China," Romney said Monday night. "China can be our partner, but -- but that doesn't mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis."
Another Romney investment in China was in Li & Fung Limited, a supply chain management company that oversees the transfer of Chinese-manufactured goods to giant American retailers like Target and Walmart -- precisely the types of products that many argue have cost American jobs at home as they've been outsourced to cheaper labor markets.
Under pressure to explain many of the overseas investments made by his blind trusts, Romney has maintained that he has no control over the trusts' choices. But according to an aide who spoke earlier this year, his investment manager, Bradley Malt, works "to make the investments in the blind trust conform to Governor Romney’s positions, and whenever it comes to his attention that there is something inconsistent, he ends the investment."
Mother Jones points out that during Romney's first Senate campaign, in 1994, the private equity millionaire painted a very different picture of how much control each investor has over his or her blind trust, saying, "The blind trust is an age old ruse, if you will, which is to say, you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules."
Stem Cell Research
In 2007, Romney <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/mitt-romney-divestment-pledge_n_1249118.html">held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares in Novo Nordisk</a>, a Danish pharmaceutical company that engages in limited use of stem cells for research. He sold the stock in 2010. His trust also made investments in Fresenius Medical Care, a German firm that has also done stem cell research. Romney <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/15/us/politics/15romney.html">has supported stem cell research in the past</a>, but today he opposes any use of human embryonic stem cells for research into diseases and other medical issues because the work could destroy viable human embryos.
Chinese State-Owned Oil Companies
In 2009 and 2010, the W. Mitt Romney blind trust invested $77,262 in shares of Cnooc Limited, the Chinese state-owned oil company, which he later sold for a profit of more than $8,100 on Aug. 10, 2011, according to the <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/romneys-family-trust-invested-in-chinese-oil-company/"><em>New York Times</em></a>. He reportedly has had other investments in a Chinese oil company that was identified by the Congressional Research Service as a likely violator of the Iran Sanctions Act, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/mitt-romney-divestment-pledge_n_1249118.html">according to the Associated Press</a>.
The 'Morning-After Pill'
The Romneys have invested money in Teva Pharmaceutical, an Israeli company that engages in stem cell research and also manufactures "Plan B One-Step," the emergency contraceptive known as the "morning-after pill." This pill is opposed by anti-abortion groups. <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/02/08/420990/mitt-romney-is-financially-invested-in-the-birth-control-he-now-opposes/">According to ThinkProgress.com</a>, Romney has invested in other birth-control manufacturers via an index fund with Goldman Sachs.
Credit Suisse Group
The Romney trust held investments in Switzerland-based Credit Suisse Groupe until August 2011. In 2009, the bank was fined <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/business/16bank.html">$536 million for violating Iran trade sanctions</a> in 2009. Romney sold these investments the day before a Republican primary debate in Iowa in 2011, <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/romneys-family-trust-invested-in-chinese-oil-company/" target="_hplink">according to</a> the <em>New York Times</em>. Though Romney is no longer invested in the Swiss bank, the bank is invested in him: Earlier this year a Credit Suisse banker appealed to subordinates to donate money to the Romney campaign, <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/02/us-usa-campaign-romney-creditsuisse-idUSTRE8211BG20120302">according to a Reuters story</a>.
Other Chinese Companies
In addition to Chinese oil companies, between 2009 and 2010 the W. Mitt Romney blind trust bought and sold shares of Chinese companies including Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Life Insurance and New Oriental Education, a company sued in 2003 by a U.S. firm for copyright infringement, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/mitt-romney-divestment-pledge_n_1249118.html">according to reports</a>.
Between mid-2009 and mid-2010, the Romney trusts made large investments in securities from BNP Paribas, a French bank with ties to Iran. The bank halted new business in Iran in 2007 but still has outstanding loans in the country. In all, Romney's family trusts bought more than 2.6 million shares, which were all sold in late 2010 for about $2.5 million, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/mitt-romney-divestment-pledge_n_1249118.html">according to the Associated Press.</a>
Romney's trust bought and sold shares in Intesa Sanpaolo, an Italian bank that has been under investigation by U.S. authorities for handling of Iranian funds. <a href="http://in.reuters.com/article/2010/12/20/iran-oil-italy-idINLDE6BC0FK20101220">According to Reuters</a>, the bank suspended financing Iranian oil trading deals in December 2010, becoming the last Italian bank to bow to pressure from the United States to cut ties with the country.
Romney's trust has made trades with Japanese company Komatsu, the world's second-largest construction equipment maker. The company has had business with Iran in the past, but <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/12/10/idUS190828+10-Dec-2010+BW20101210">stopped business with the country at the end of 2010</a>. Romney sold these investments the day before a Republican primary debate in Iowa in 2011, <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/romneys-family-trust-invested-in-chinese-oil-company/" target="_hplink">according to</a> the <em>New York Times</em>.
According to Romney's tax returns, Mitt and Ann Romney <a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2012/09/22/next-tax-argument-romneys-foreign-investments/">had many investments in offshore firms</a> such as ArcelorMittal, a steel company based in Luxembourg with operations around the world.
Romney's investments have included FLSmidth, a Danish machinery company that does business in South America, Africa and other countries around the world. Romney sold these investments the day before a Republican primary debate in Iowa in 2011, <a href="http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/romneys-family-trust-invested-in-chinese-oil-company/" target="_hplink">according to</a> the <em>New York Times</em>.