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L.A. city, county move to divest funds from Sudan

February 14, 2007|Susannah Rosenblatt and Duke Helfand | Times Staff Writer

Joining a growing backlash to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, Los Angeles city and county officials are taking steps this week to cut financial ties with companies that do business with the Sudanese government.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to urge the county's retirement system to divest from businesses that have interests in the East African country.

And Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled today to announce that three city pension funds, including one for the Department of Water and Power, will soon take similar action on more than $27 million in investments.

"We don't want our money to be used to cause people misery and perpetuate what's going on there," said Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, whose motion calls the situation "appalling" and instructs the Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Assn. to identify companies linked to operations in Sudan and withdraw any investments.

The county's move is designed to put economic pressure on the government of the northeast African country, where as many as 200,000 people have died from starvation, disease or killings since 2003 in a crisis that top American leaders have labeled a genocide.

An estimated 2.5 million more have been displaced in the 4-year-old conflict in the Darfur region, in which the government has been accused of unleashing Arab militiamen to kill civilians.

The county retirement system is the largest in the nation, with more than 147,000 members and $37.5 billion in assets.

The supervisors' action builds on efforts by six states, including California, and several cities and universities, that already have approved such divestment plans.

County officials are uncertain if the pension fund has holdings that benefit the Sudanese government, but county staffers are still investigating, said Lisa Mazzocco, chief investment officer with the county retirement association. The county board of investments is independent and not bound to follow the supervisors' directive, but will likely make an effort to do so without diminishing the county portfolio.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky amended Burke's motion, requesting collaboration with the Sudan Divestment Task Force, an organization linked with the Washington-based Genocide Intervention Network. The group's research is designed to maximize the negative impact on the Sudanese government while reducing harm to civilians.

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susannah.rosenblatt @latimes.com

duke.helfand@latimes.com

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