Friday, July 22, 2011

Norway government-run pension fund drops Africa Israel group shares


Oslo says EUR450bn oil fund has excluded two Israeli firms for ethical reasons.

Norway’s 450 billion euro oil-riches fund has excluded two Israeli firms involved in developing settlements, as well as a Malaysian forestry firm, on ethical grounds, Norway’s finance ministry said on Monday. The excluded companies are Africa Israel Investments and its engineering subsidiary Danya Cebus, both of which are controlled by energy and real estate magnate Lev Leviev. The Malaysian firm is Samling Global.

The ministry said that the oil fund, which is essentially a form of pension fund, has already sold all its holdings in these companies.

The central bank-managed fund follows ethical guidelines set by the government and does not invest in companies that produce nuclear weapons or cluster munitions, damage the environment or abuse workers’ rights. Nor will it invest in companies that build in the settlements, it appears.

Africa Israel controls Danya Cebus, “a construction company involved in developing settlements in occupied Palestinian territory,” the fund said in a statement.

Danya Cebus has carried out construction projects, as a hired contractor, in Har Homa, a Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem, and in the settlements Ma’aleh Adumim, Modi’in Ilit ‏(shown in the picture‏) and Adam.

The vast fund, which invests the Nordic nation’s oil and gas wealth in foreign stocks and bonds to save for future generations, holds more than 1% of all global stocks. It owned shares worth 7.2 million Norwegian crowns (‏€1.16 million) in Africa Israel Investments at year-end 2009.

“The Council on Ethics emphasizes that the construction of settlements in occupied areas is a violation of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,” it said.

“Several United Nations Security Council resolutions and an International Court of Justice advisory opinion have concluded that the construction of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory is prohibited under this Convention,” Finance Minister Sigbjoern Johnsen said in the statement.

The ministry said it had excluded forestry company Samling Global based on the environmental impact of its forest operations in Malaysia and Guyana. The fund owned shares worth 8.1 million crowns in Samling Global at year end 2009.

“The Council on Ethics has assessed Samling Global, and concluded that the company’s forest operations in the rainforests of Sarawak and Guyana contribute to illegal logging and severe environmental damage,” Johnsen said.

Africa Israel stated that it and its subsidiaries have not been involved for a long time in real estate development or housing construction in the towns of the West Bank. Therefore, the company said, the claims made by the fund are groundless.

This is not the first time Africa Israel has taken arrows for building in the territories. A year and a half ago, following pressure by pro-Palestinian groups, the British embassy in Israel eschewed moving to a building owned by Africa Israel in Tel Aviv, because of its activity in the territories.

A year ago this same Norwegian oil fund dropped its investment in Elbit Systems, a defense electronics company, because of its involvement in building the separation fence, which the fund said violated human rights.

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