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B.C. public sector pension fund mum on Russian stocks

B.C. Ministry of Finance says it will not ask the British Columbia Investment Management Corp. to divest over Ukraine invasion
The British Columbia Investment Management Corp.’s Russian investments include large oil and gas companies | Vostok/Moment/Getty Images

British Columbia’s public sector pension fund held at least $438.6 million in shares of Russian companies through the end of the last fiscal year.


Seven of the 17 companies are partially or fully state-owned and five were sanctioned by the federal Liberal government on Feb. 24 in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. High-profile associates of Vladimir Putin sit on some of the boards.

The B.C. Ministry of Finance, however, says it will not ask the British Columbia Investment Management Corp. (BCI) to divest over the Ukraine invasion.

Over the weekend, it said BCI operates “by design” independent of government to avoid conflict of interest. “BCI is accountable to its clients for investment returns and the investment of each client’s funds.”

In Question Period on Monday, Premier John Horgan indicated the government would prefer divestiture by BCI, but wouldn’t intervene and jeopardize the arm’s length relationship.

“Those trustees would’ve heard and seen of the horrors that are emerging from Ukraine, I would hope they would take their authority and direct the finance administration to take steps to divest,” Horgan said.

BCI’s latest report, dated March 31, 2021, said it manages $66.6 billion of public equities. The investment inventory includes at least 17 Russian companies. The list is alphabetical and does not specifiy nationality, nor does it show share quantities.

Topping the list of BCI’s Russian investments is the state-owned bank SberBank, valued at $103.89 million. The board includes Dmitry Chernyshenko, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for tourism, sport, culture and communications. The former Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) CEO was a frequent visitor to Vancouver as the CEO of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Chernyshenko, Putin and Kremlin chief of staff Dmitry Kozak were stripped of their Olympic Order honours on Monday for violating the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Truce, which is supposed to last until a week after the Paralympics.

BCI also reported $17.32 million invested in mining company Evraz, owned by oligarchs Roman Abramovich and Eugene Shvidler. U.K. sanctions prompted Abramovich to hand his ownership of the English Premier League’s Chelsea FC to its charitable foundation.  

BCI disclosed a $1.34 million stake in energy giant Inter RAO. One of its board members is Dmitry Shugaev, the director of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, which reports to Putin.

BCI is a signatory of the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment program and claims that it integrates environmental, social and governance considerations "in a consistent manner across the corporation.” BCI refused, however, to say whether it would ponder divestment of Russian stocks.

“We’re respectfully declining to comment as we do not publicly discuss our investment strategy or specific holdings,” said Gwen-Ann Chittenden, BCI’s vice-president of corporate stakeholder engagement.

The NDP cabinet appointed three of the seven members of the BCI board, including former BC Liberal deputy finance minister Peter Milburn as chair, University of Victoria vice-president Gayle Gorrill and retired former Ministry of Finance chief operating officer Sheila Taylor.

The other four are appointed by the College Pension Plan, Public Service Pension Plan, Municipal Pension Plan and Teachers Pension Plan.

Public Service Pension Plan-appointed BCI director Paul Finch is also the treasurer for the B.C. General Employees Union. He declined comment.

List of BCI investments in Russian public companies

*SberBank $103.89 million

Lukoil $83.85 million

MMC Norilsk Nickel $38.16 million

Novatek (oil and gas) $35.05 million

Polyus (gold mining) $33.05 million

*Rosneft Oil $32.30 million

*Alrosa (diamond-mining) $30.48 million

*Gazprom $19.16 million

Evraz (metals and mining) $17.32 million

Novolipetsk Steel $10.67 million

Magnit (grocery retail) $9.2 million

*Tatneft (oil and gas) $8.28 million $8.93 million

Surgutneftegas $6.06 million

Severstal (metals and mining) $5.19 million

Moscow Exchange MICEX $1.7 million

*Inter RAO (energy) $1.34 million

PhosAgro (chemicals and fertilizer) $1.28 million

*VTB Bank $990,000


bold=sanctioned by Canada