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St. Petersburg Times: Florida cuts ties to make a point

The pension fund will stop investing in firms at work in Sudan, Iran.

By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published September 20, 2007

TALLAHASSEE – Florida made a political statement with its pension fund Wednesday by cutting investment ties with 57 companies doing energy-related work in the Sudan and Iran.

Intended as a condemnation of genocide in Darfur and terrorism in Iran, the action was also meant to spur other states to take similar steps.

At least two other states have also passed laws requiring divestiture of stocks tied to Sudan, but Florida is the first state to target both countries.

The amount of money involved is $1.3-billion, less than 1 percent of the $137-billion that was in the fund Wednesday.

“This is a step that’s going to be taken to help defend our country, make us safer and hopefully help end the genocide in the Sudan,” said state Sen. Ted Deutch, a Delray Beach Democrat.

The first-term lawmaker sponsored the law, the Protecting Florida Investment Act, which Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law June 8.

The list of affected companies includes few household names and no U.S.-based firms.

Several oil companies are on the list, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC of Great Britain, Eni of Italy, Statoil of Norway and French oil giant Total SA.

According to the standards set forth in the law, the 43 companies on the Sudan list either do business with the Sudanese government; are involved in oil, mineral or power-related projects; provide little benefit to the country’s poor; or have been complicit in the genocide in Darfur.

The 27 firms on the Iran list do business with the Iranian government or have similar energy-related projects or have invested in Iran’s petroleum sector. Thirteen companies are on both lists, reducing the total to 57.

Pension fund money managers are immediately barred from investing in the firms on the list and must divest the state’s holdings in the firms within one year.

The state will notify the affected firms, asking them to stop prohibited operations within 90 days.

“This is a message that’s long overdue,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum.

“It’s a model for our country, for other states, and I think it’s awfully important that we take this action,” Crist said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

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