Tampa Pension board to divest from Iran, Sudan

09/21/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Following the lead of numerous city and state governments, Tampa’s General Employee Pension Board decided today to do away with indirect investments in Iran and Sudan. Lawyer and city council candidate Seth Nelson says he applauds the board.

The state passed the Protecting Florida’s Investment Act in 2007. The Tampa Police and Fire Pension Board voted to follow state guidelines last month. Nelson says the sectors affected are petroleum, military, and energy production. The Obama Administration has criticized Iran for developing its nuclear program and allegedly sponsoring acts of terrorism. Nelson says there’s another good argument for the divestment.

The meeting took place in a dark conference room on the fifth floor of the Tampa Police Department headquarters. This reporter was initially blocked from attending the meeting. But this was resolved after about fifteen minutes and speaking with several people who had to make phone calls before granting access. A handful of members of the public came to witness the board’s discussion, which only took a few minutes. According to the sign-in sheet at the TPD reception area, a number of them represented Jewish community groups. There did not appear to be anyone present who opposed the divestment. Nelson says he doesn’t think the board’s decision was a divisive measure.

It is illegal for anyone in the US to invest directly in Iran, but loopholes allow some investors to do so indirectly. Twenty-two states, including Florida, New Jersey, California and Illinois have required their agency that oversees state employee pensions to bar such investments. Asked if such widespread divestment from Iran makes an attack on the country more palatable to the American public, Nelson says he doesn’t think so.

The board voted to adopt essentially the same law the state enacted regarding divestment from Iran and Sudan. That law relates only to foreign companies, and not those based in the US. Its legal department now has 60 days to update the policy to reflect the new rules. The city’s general employee pension fund amounts to some $500 million.

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