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Trump selects billionaire Icahn to advise on regulatory reform

US president-elect Donald Trump has selected billionaire Carl Icahn to advise him on business regulation. The pro-Wall Street, anti-environmentalist will help shape rules to police Wall Street and the environment.

The 80-year-old activist shareholder and long-term friend of US President-elect Donald Trump will serve as a special adviser and not a federal employee. Icahn will not take a salary, a transition aide said.

"Carl was with me from the beginning and with his being one of the world's great businessmen, that was something I truly appreciated," Trump said in a statement.

"He is not only a brilliant negotiator but also someone who is innately able to predict the future especially having to do with finances and economies. His help on the strangling regulations that our country is faced with will be invaluable," the statement read.

Trump had wanted Icahn for Treasury Secretary before the position went to Steve Mnuchin, another advocate of rolling back regulation in the financial sector having worked at Goldman Sachs for 17 years.

Yes, Icahn

Once known as a corporate raider, Icahn was an early supporter of Trump's White House bid and has at times been outspoken about regulation. "It is time to break free of excessive regulation and let businesses create jobs," he said on Wednesday.

Icahn told the news agency Reuters recently that the 2010 Dodd-Frank banking law "went too far."

Dodd-Frank was enacted in 2010 after the financial crisis of 2008 aimed at preventing another such event. The banking law is also designed to protect consumers with rules on abusive lending and mortgage practices by banks.

Picking the right team

Icahn reportedly helped Trump pick candidates to fill his cabinet, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

He is also reportedly helping the transition team assess candidates to lead the financial sector watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), after its chair, Mary Jo White, leaves her post in January.

The successor to White may have to decide whether investor activists will be obliged to disclose their stakes more quickly after acquiring them and whether they need to include derivatives such as some stock options.

Business groups that argue activists put their own short-term gains ahead of companies' long-term futures urge such changes.

Icahn himself is a pioneer among activist shareholders, who buy up stakes and push boards to change direction by selling assets, firing the CEO or buying back shares.

Candidates to replace her have reportedly included former SEC Commissioner Paul Atkins and Debra Wong Yang, a former federal prosecutor.

USA streieknde Mitarbeiter vor dem Trump Taj Mahal Hotel in Atlantic City (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Evans)

Striking workers picket outside the Trump Taj Mahal hotel and casino in Atlantic City in July

Conflicts of interest?

Icahn's major investments include insurer American International Group and oil refining business CVR Energy.

He is a large investor in nutrition supplement maker Herbalife, which said at one time it was investigated by the SEC, according to disclosures with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA).

Icahn earlier this year helped close the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resorts in Atlantic City, two years after buying it out of bankruptcy. The casino was once a prized part of Trump's empire.

On the environment

Icahn is also a critic of the US biofuels program that requires oil companies to use renewable fuels such as ethanol.

"I do believe that, to some extent, we have gone overboard concerning the environment. But I leave that to the experts in that area," Icahn told CNN in a recent interview.

Icahn, who controls an oil refiner and has spent months berating the EPA over a rule he says hurts the industry, helped Trump vet candidates to run the EPA.

Draining the swamp

Democratic senator Sherrod Brown said: “This isn’t draining the swamp – it’s stocking it with alligators.”

The Democratic National Committee said the appointment would mean a conflict of interest due to his investments and business dealings. "It looks like Trump isn't the only billionaire set to profit off of the presidency,” spokesman Eric Walker said in a statement.

Shares of Icahn's CVR Energy - an oil refiner - have risen 67 percent since the November election, boosting the value of his investment by more than $600 million.

The aggegate wealth of Trump's cabinet before Icahn's appointment was reportedly five times bigger than President Obama’s Cabinet and about 34-fold greater than the one George W. Bush led at the end of his presidency. 

The net worth of the Cabinet Trump had selected as of Monday was at least $13.1 billion, based on available estimates.

jbh/jm (Reuters, AFP)

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