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Romney wealth as high as $250 million; vast holdings revealed

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's vast wealth is spread over a dizzying array of foreign and domestic investments that at times have been sold to avoid conflicts with his public stances, the trustee of his blind trust said Monday.

Among the investments sold by trustee R. Bradford Malt were holdings in companies known to have interests with Iran, including French and Italian oil companies. Romney earlier this year called for state pension systems to divest themselves of Iran-related stocks.

Romney and his wife, Ann, hold assets worth between $190 million and $250 million, his advisers said. The campaign released details of his wealth Monday in a personal financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission and the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. The value of assets in federal financial reports are listed in ranges, making a precise figure impossible to discern.

Romney reported that he and his wife have joint interest checking accounts with Bank of America of between $5 million and $25 million and a money market account between $1 million and $5 million. Both also have Individual Retirement Accounts. But the bulk of their money is in two blind trusts, which Malt said are divided evenly between husband and wife.

Blind trusts are designed to prevent public officials from controlling their investments, thus avoiding potential conflicts of interest. Under federal rules, the Romneys were not required to report a blind trust in the name of their children, which aides say is valued at about $100 million.

Romney is by far the wealthiest candidate in the presidential field. He has already pumped about $9 million into his campaign from his personal wealth. The report suggests he could easily tap that vein again.

Presidential candidates had been required to file such disclosures by May 15, but Romney asked for two 45-day extensions to obtain detailed values of his and his wife's blind trusts.

The delay allowed Romney to file two days after the Iowa straw poll, a nonbinding but politically significant rite of passage in a state that holds the first presidential caucus. Romney won the straw poll with 31.5 percent after spending generously in the state on ads and mobilizing supporters.

Though the blind trusts precluded Romney from knowing or controlling the assets of his wealth, Malt, the trustee, said he was aware of the political sensitivity of the investments.

"As I become aware that ownership of some stock was inconsistent with public positions, I might sell them," Malt said in a teleconference with reporters Monday.

He specifically singled out blind trust investments with the Italian-based Eni SpA and the French Total, oil companies that have done business in Iran. Each was sold for between $15,000 and $50,000.

The report offers the most detailed public look yet at the finances of the former Massachusetts governor, who has refused to release his income tax returns, and who previously filed only state financial disclosure forms that described his holdings in the most general terms.

The 47-page federal report was something of a revelation for Romney as well.

Forced to open his blind trust, the Romneys — and the world — discovered precisely which stocks, bonds and mutual funds they own.

Among them: $2.5 million to $8 million in AB Svensk Exportkredit, a Swedish export credit corporation; and $1 million to $5 million in Eksportfinans ASA, a Norwegian financing corporation, and $100,000 to $250,000 in Russian energy giant Gazprom. Ann Romney's trust reported various Goldman Sachs investments of more than $1 million (spousal assets can be reported in less precise figures). Romney's trust has $3.5 million to $16 million in Goldman Sachs investments.

Malt said none of Romney's overseas investments are tax shelters or help reduce his federal tax obligations in any way. "They don't reduce income taxes, they don't defer income taxes," he said.

Malt is a Boston-based lawyer with the national law firm of Ropes & Gray and has been trustee for the Romney blind trusts since Romney became governor of Massachusetts in January 2003. He said the funds will now continue operating as blind trusts and that Romney will not be privy to any further transactions.

Asked while campaigning in Fresno, Calif., whether his enormous financial wealth kept him from appealing to average voters, Romney said his track record in establishing a scholarship program for top-achieving high school students and broadening access to health insurance in Massachusetts showed he "understood the hearts of people."

Romney has said he would give his annual presidential salary of $400,000 to charity.

Malt approved sales of millions of dollars of holdings during the past 18 months, most transactions that would be expected with a portfolio as large as that of the Romneys. Other sales, besides the Iran-related stocks, also helped avoid potential political embarrassment for Romney.

Among them were investments in gaming companies, including Ameristar Casinos and Harrahs Entertainment. Romney has been eager to present himself as the most socially conservative candidate in the field, decrying what he has said is the debasement of the culture.

The report also highlights a continuing connection between Romney and Bain Capital, the venture capital firm he founded and which he left in 1999 to assume leadership of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Earlier this year, Romney played down any lingering connection after The Associated Press reported Bain Capital and Bain & Co., the management consulting firm where Romney used to work, had links to Iranian business interests. At the time, a spokesman highlighted Romney's 1999 resignation from Bain, while Romney himself said his divestment call applied only to future activity, not past dealings.

A notation in Romney's filing, however, says that under a noncompete agreement with Bain Capital, Romney retains a "passive profit share as a retired partner in certain Bain Capital entities formed on or prior to Feb. 11, 2009."

A note in Romney's report states that Romney asked for a listing of Bain's underlying holdings, but, like other funds in his blind trust, the fund managers said the information was confidential and declined to provide it.

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Associated Press Writer Glen Johnson in Boston and Garance Burke in Fresno, Calif., contributed to this report.