NY pension money is being held hostage by Vladimir Putin, Russia

New York employees and taxpayers are unwittingly funding Russian companies and Vladimir Putin’s oligarch friends with at least $519 million invested in assets now frozen by the warmongering dictator, The Post has learned.

City and state pension schemes have pledged to sell the holdings in protest at Russia’s attack on Ukraine, but Moscow has banned foreign investors from selling the shares.

“Putin is a thug and he’s holding our money hostage,” said Gregory Floyd, a Teamsters union leader and trustee of the New York City Employee Retirement System, NYCERS.

New York City’s five pension systems — including teachers, police officers, firefighters and other city employees — have invested a total of $284.5 million in 33 publicly traded Russian stocks, according to records released to The Post by City Examiner Brad Lander’s office.

As of February 25, the market value of the Russian assets was $185.9 million, nearly $100 million less than the purchase price, the latest available records show.

Lander’s office says it can’t say exactly what Russian stocks are worth today.

“The market remains closed to all non-Russian investors,” spokeswoman Shaquana Chaneyfield said. “There are strict sanctions that prohibit us from trading in Russian securities. Given this context and the constantly changing rules in the Russian market, an accurate assessment of their current value is not currently available.”

A woman exits a branch of the majority-owned Russian banking and financial services company Sberbank.
Sberbank is Russia’s majority-owned banking and financial services company.

The list of Russian investments reveals the involvement of a list of billionaire oligarchs and close Putin allies, including:

  • Herman Oskarovich Gref is a close Putin associate and CEO of Russia’s largest financial institution, Sberbank. The US sanctioned Sberbank on April 6, barring US citizens or institutions from most transactions with the bank in a bid to hit Russia economically after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Gref is also a senior official in the Russian government.

New York’s pension schemes invested most of their Moscow investments, $133.3 million, in Sberbank.

  • Alexei Miller, CEO of Gazprom, a Russian state-owned energy company and the world’s largest natural gas company, called on employees to rally around Putin in mid-March to preserve Russia’s power.

NYC Pension Schemes invested $6.4 million in Gazprom.

  • Vagit Alekperov, a billionaire and close Putin ally, resigned as president of Lukoil, Russia’s second-biggest oil company, on April 21 after it was hit with crippling sanctions by the US and other countries.
A view of the fuel tanks of Russian multinational energy company Lukoil at its headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Lukoil, a Russian energy company, is headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

NYC’s pension investments in Lukoil totaled $22.7 million.

  • Oleg Deripaska, a Putin ally and billionaire oligarch who founded Norilsk, a nickel and metals mining and smelting company. The FBI searched two homes linked to Deripaska in Washington, DC and New York City last October.

NYC Pension Investment in Norilsk: $14.2 million

  • Said Kerimov, the controlling shareholder of Polyus Gold, Russia’s largest gold producer. His father, billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, resigned from the Polyus board in April. The elder Kerimov, a suspected money launderer, is known as the “Russian Gatsby” for throwing lavish parties at his French Riviera mansions. Fiji impounded its $300 million yacht on May 5 at the request of the US Treasury Department.

The father was sanctioned by the US in 2018, alongside several oligarchs who benefited from the Kremlin “through corruption and its malign activities around the world, including the occupation of Crimea,” federal authorities accused.

NYC Pension System Investment in Polyus: $3.8 million.

  • Igor Sechin, nicknamed “Darth Vader”, was Putin’s right-hand man as Deputy Prime Minister. He is chairman of Rosneft, a Russian state oil company. French authorities seized a $120 million superyacht belonging to Sechin in early March following the invasion of Ukraine.

NYC Pension Investments at Rosneft: $4.6 million.

Putin will meet with Rosneft oil producer CEO Igor Sechin in February 2021 in Moscow.
Putin will meet with Rosneft oil producer CEO Igor Sechin in February 2021 in Moscow.
Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin/REUTERS

In addition to NYC’s pension systems, New York State’s Common Retirement Fund had an estimated $110.8 million in publicly traded Russian securities on March 1 when State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli ordered a review.

On March 25, he called for the “unacceptably high investment risk” to be divested. A spokesman did not provide any information on the current value of the securities.

The New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, NYSTERS, which represents public school teachers outside of NYC, passed an order March 4 to divest $125 million of Russia-related assets. The current market value was not given.

“You’re just trapped,” John Murphy, former executive director of NYCERS, said of pension systems. “There is a risk that they will lose all their money with these companies.”

Even if the pension schemes could sell, “They couldn’t sell at a reasonable price. There is no market for the securities due to global outrage over the war,” said Edward Siedle, a former attorney and investigator with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The city and state’s $519 million is just 0.1 percent of the total $263.2 billion city pension systems manage in March.

The $110.8 million in Russian shares in the state employee pension scheme, estimated as of March 1, accounts for 0.03 of its $279.7 billion in assets. And the state teachers’ pension scheme had $125 million worth of Russian stock as of March 4 — or 0.08 percent of its $152.4 billion fortune.

A Russian ruble coin is depicted with US dollars
NYC’s five pension schemes cover teachers, police officers, firefighters and other city employees.
AFP via Getty Images

But the publicly traded Russian investments are “just the tip of the iceberg,” said Siedle.

City and state pension systems enter secret deals with private equity, hedge funds, and real estate investment firms that don’t disclose where they’re sinking hundreds of millions of dollars in hopes of profit.

“Given the lack of transparency, I seriously doubt that their Russian holdings are limited to the publicly traded securities they disclosed,” Siedle said.

The NYC Comptroller’s Office publishes the names of private investment firms and the amounts of money they manage — but not the specific investments. A request for compliance with the Freedom of Information Act for Russian investments managed by the firms was denied.

Matthew Sweeney, a spokesman for DiNapoli, said during the review, “We have shared with managers (including private equity managers) our concerns about not investing in Russia.”

Police officer in front of Oleg Deripaska's house while it is being searched.
The home of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was raided on October 19, 2021.
Tom Brenner/REUTERS

Rep. Ron Kim, D-Queens, introduced a bill this month that would require state officials to disclose the contracts that govern how outside firms manage funds from New York’s pension systems.

Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, which represents school security agents, housing and hospital workers, said the pension system will sue Russia or private companies that have been dumping city pension money into the country if the investments bust due to misconduct.

“This won’t bankrupt the funds, but you never want to lose money,” he said.

The state and city of New York pension systems have invested a total of $519 million in Russian securities. In NYC, five employee pension schemes invested at least $284.5 million in Russian companies, including many linked to Vladimir Putin’s oligarchic allies. Among them:

Sberbank / Herman Gref / $133.3 million

Lukoil/ Vagit Alekperov/ $22.7 million

Norilsk/Oleg Deripaska/$14.2M

Gazprom/ Alexei Miller/ $6.4 million

Rosneft/ Igor Sechin/ $4.6 million NY pension money is being held hostage by Vladimir Putin, Russia


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