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NYC comptroller calls for city pension plans to divest from Russian assets linked to Putin

City Comptroller Brad Lander is pushing to divest the city’s pension system from assets linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin as the U.S. tightens sanctions against Russia.

“The White House is beginning the process of identifying the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies that support and enable Putin’s actions,” Lander said in a statement, referring to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. “Following an analysis of the funds’ holdings against that list and legal review, I plan to bring specific assets to the trustees of the five boards of the New York City Retirement Systems to consider for divestment.”

The city pension fund’s Russian assets were worth about $271 million last week, Reuters reported.

The decision to divest must be made by the boards of each pension plan, which together are worth more than $270 billion and cover 700,000 current and former public employees and retirees.

The U.S. government has issued sanctions against certain Russian financial institutions as well as specific individuals with ties to Putin, and has also “imposed significant export restrictions to limit Russia’s high-tech imports,” according to Wiley Law.

On Sunday, Governor Kathy Hochul issued an executive order to end state investments and purchases that financially benefit Russia, for as long as the federal government’s economic sanctions continue.

Other states have signaled their interest in divesting their pension systems from Russia — Colorado, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania state officials announced they were beginning the process.

Democratic Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski of Rockland County has called on the New York state comptroller’s office to divest $58.9 million in the state’s Common Retirement Fund from Sberbank of Russia and Rosneft OJSC, the Times Union reported.

An inquiry to the state Comptroller’s office about the state’s plans was not immediately answered Monday.

Last year, the state pension fund divested holdings in Unilever after its subsidiary Ben & Jerry’s decided to restrict sales in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which violated a state law prohibiting public investments in companies boycotting against Israel.

On Monday, the Russian central bank ordered that all foreigners be prohibited from selling Russian securities, as the value of the ruble continued a precipitous freefall under current economic sanctions. The Moscow stock exchange closed on Monday and will remain closed on Tuesday.

“New York City is home to one of the world’s largest populations of Ukrainians, and our hearts are with the people of Ukraine, the many Russians who are bravely protesting this war, and with Ukrainian Americans watching in horror from our shores,” Lander said in the statement.

Last year, three of the five city pension plans also divested from fossil fuels, including Russian oil companies, as part of climate change action, Lander said.

“Russia’s actions remind us that one of the best ways to curtail the power of authoritarian petrostate leaders is to reduce our global reliance on the oil and gas industry. To that end, I am proud to reaffirm that the decisions of three of the five NYC pension funds to divest from fossil fuels, including top Russian oil companies, were wise actions to advance a healthier and safer planet,” he said.

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