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House backs Iran energy, Sudan divestment bills
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Calling for an end to Iranian nuclear ambitions and years of bloodshed in Sudan, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bills on Tuesday to give legal protections to investment managers who pull money out of key sectors of either nation's economy.
The bills call on the U.S. government to list companies with more than $20 million invested in Iran's energy sector or with business in Sudan supporting that government's "genocidal practices," said a statement from Democratic backers.
Money managers who decide to divest from companies on the lists would be protected from lawsuits under the bills, which would shield private-sector money managers as well as fund managers for state and local governments and educational institutions.
"I am disappointed by the Bush administration's opposition to both of these bills, and I am pleased that the House has passed them with well above the number of votes that would be necessary to override any vetoes," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who backed both measures.
The Iran bill was approved by a 408-6 vote, the Sudan bill by 418-1. Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, a presidential candidate, has introduced a bill in the Senate similar to the House's Iran measure.
Passage of the House bill "is an important step forward in our efforts to stop Iran from acquiring the nuclear weapons it seeks," said Obama, a 2008 presidential candidate, in a statement.
The Iran bill could affect large public pension funds. Several years ago New York City's public pension systems began nudging U.S. companies with foreign units, like Halliburton Co. , to exit Iran. Since then, several states, including Florida, have introduced divestment legislation.
The Congressional Research Service recently found more than $100 billion in energy investments in Iran since 1999 by foreign firms like France's Total, Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Italy's ENI and Japan's Inpex Holdings Inc..
The House vote on Iran came a day after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he and President George W. Bush had agreed on the need for tougher sanctions against that country.
Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its nuclear program is purely peaceful.
Mid-1990s laws already allow the government to sanction companies doing business with Iran, but no company has actually been sanctioned under the statutes.
Like the Iran bill, the Sudan measure would require the U.S. government to establish a list of companies with ties to a foreign government under intense pressure to change its ways.
The Darfur conflict in Sudan has claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people since 2003.
Money managers divesting from companies on the Sudan list would be protected from lawsuits by investors who might claim that the divestment hurt their returns.
(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh)
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