World

Washington city employee pension invests in Iran

The District of Columbia’s Retirement Board is invested in Iran through the state-owned, Putin-controlled Russian oil and natural gas company Gazprom, according to both local media reports and Gazprom itself.

The board, which is an independent agency responsible for managing the district’s $4.5 billion pension fund, has to comply with the “Prohibition of the Investment of Public Funds in Certain Companies Doing Business with the Government of Iran and Sudan Divestment Conformity Act of 2008.”

“It does not appear that the company [Gazprom] has material oil and gas operations in Iran and did not reveal any plans for new business activities,” wrote Joseph Bress, the DCRB’s chairman, wrote in a February 28, 2013 letter [pdf] to the board. “Therefore, it is being maintained in the portfolio for close monitoring.”

Apparently, that monitoring wasn’t close enough. Press reports before that letter and since show clearly that Gazprom is investing in Iran.

A February 15, 2013 article mentions business negotiations with Iran.  “In 2008, Gazpromneft and the National Iranian Oil company signed a memorandum on the development of the Azar and Shangule fields located in the Anaran Exploration Block,” wrote Russia Beyond the Headlines. Though Gazprom said it was leaving Iran in 2011, there’s little evidence that it actually left.

Earlier this month Iranian oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said that Iran had begun gas negotiations with Gazprom on state-run television, according to Caspianbarrel.org.

A November 6, 2013 press release from Gazprom applauded when Iranian Seyed Mohammad Hossein Adeli was named Secretary General of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF). Along with Russia and Iran, the GECF is a who’s who of dictatorships and third world gas exporting countries—Algeria, Bolivia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

Gazprom’s website mentions investments from “American Public Entities,” but is unclear as to which ones were still invested.

Three years ago, CalPERS, California’s public pension fund, was found to have violated California and federal law which forced it to sell-off its ties to Gazprom and other-Iranian related investments.

“CalPERS officials have sold none of the pension fund’s Iran-related investments because they do not want to incur financial losses or transaction costs for its $200-billion portfolio,” wrote Marc Lifsher of the L.A. Times in 2010. “CalPERS estimates that losses from a sell-off could exceed $100 million under certain conditions.” CalPERS,

With $257.4 billion in assets, CalPERS is by far the largest public pension fund in the United States.

Neither the DCRB, nor Gazprom, nor CalPERS returned a request for comment.

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