'UK firm divests from Leviev company'

All sides deny report by Norwegian watchdog that firm pulled out due to involvement with settlements.

Lev Leviev 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lev Leviev 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The British branch of a New York-based investment management firm has denied allegations made by a Norwegian watchdog organization that it has divested funds from a corporation owned by Israeli business magnate Lev Leviev for its involvement in settlement construction. Norwatch - an "independent news service" that "conducts critical journalistic investigation n Norwegian businesses in developing countries" - claimed in an article on its Web site last week that BlackRock - a premier provider of global investment management, risk management and advisory services with assets under management totalling $1.373 trillion - divested from Leviev's company, Africa Israel Investments, following pressure from three Norwegian firms with investments in BlackRock. A BlackRock representative told The Jerusalem Post the Norwatch claim was false and that any decisions on investments were made purely in the best interests of clients. "The allegations made are untrue. As a fiduciary, we always act in the best interests of our clients and within the applicable legal and regulatory framework and we have done so here," BlackRock said. According to NorWatch, three Norwegian investment firms - Storebrand, Skandiabanken and Danica Pensjon - put pressure on BlackRock to divest from Africa Israel Investments because of its involvement in settlement construction. This was denied by all three companies. Speaking to the Post on Friday, Johnny Anderson, Skandiabanken's information manager, denied it had pressed BlackRock to divest but said it calls for openness from all investment companies so that their clients know exactly in what they are investing. He said this was because Skandiabanken adhered to strict ethical principles and responsible investment, but that it did not take political stances. "As an independent distributor of over 400 funds from many fund managers, it is important for us to work for transparency in the various funds' composition of investments and openness around their investment profile. This is central to facilitate the best possible decisions for our customers in their choice of fund," Anderson said. Speaking for Storebrand, Christine Tørklep Meisingset told the Post that as part of its commitment to social responsibility, every three months Storebrand screened all external investment companies, using its "responsible investment policy" to see if they were adhering to ethical standards. This, she said, was because Storebrand believed that systematic improvement toward sustainable development was good for business, and that this, in turn, would benefit clients. "Our belief as a responsible company is that we need to invest in a way that benefits our clients in the long run," she said. She said Storebrand representatives held two meetings with BlackRock officials, in April and May, where they addressed the investment in Africa Israel Investments. "Storebrand offers the BlackRock fund to our clients, and in this case our clients' investments constitute only a very small part of the fund in total. Thus, we are in no position to 'force' them to divest," Meisingset said. She said her financial services company merely asked BlackRock to engage with Africa-Israel and have a transparent relationship, or if this was not possible, to divest. This is what Storebrand asked from all external investment companies. "If we do not achieve any of these, we have the opportunity to stop offering this fund to our clients," she said. "Our general experience is that our financial supply chain listens carefully to what we say, and acts in line with our requirements." Speaking to the Post, Danica Pensjon said it had sent a routine e-mail to BlackRock when it was informed about Africa Israel's stance and that Danica Pensjon was happy with the response. "When we received information that raised questions about BlackRock's investments, we wrote a routine e-mail to BlackRock," said Geir Wik, Danica Pensjon's sales and marketing director. In March, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv canceled a planned move to a building owned by Africa Israel Investments, because of the company's role in West Bank construction. The embassy had been in negotiations with Africa Israel Investments to move from its current location to the Hakirya Tower.