* Fund looking into firms active in Equatorial Guinea
* Fund had $2.71 bln invested in Exxon at end-2012
* Fund is 10th-largest investor in Exxon
* Also invested in Marathon Oil and Hess
By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, April 24 Norway's sovereign wealth fund is
looking into selling off shares in oil firms that work in
Equatorial Guinea, where oil revenue does nothing to relieve
abject poverty, the fund's ethics council said, a list that
includes Exxon Mobil.
The Norwegian Pension Fund Global was Exxon Mobil's
tenth-largest shareholder at end-2012 with some 16 billion
crowns ($2.7 billion) worth of shares, or a stake of 0.81
The fund, whose investments totalled $725 billion on
Wednesday, invests Norway's revenues from oil and gas production
for future generations. Exxon Mobil was its tenth-largest equity
holding at end-2012, according to its annual report.
"We are looking into the oil companies in which we hold
shares and which are active in Equatorial Guinea," Ola Mestad,
the head of the fund's ethics council, said on Wednesday.
"The production of the country's dominant natural resource
appears to enrich only the country's elite while the living
conditions of the population are amongst the worst in the
world," the council said in its annual report.
The fund has frequently excluded companies for what it deems
to be unethical behaviour based on the recommendations of its
Mestad declined to name the specific companies being
considered in the case of Equatorial Guinea or say how long the
process could take.
EXXON, MARATHON, HESS
A spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil in Norway confirmed the
company was active in Equatorial Guinea and that statements she
had made to a local daily newspaper were correct.
"To operate honestly and ethically is one of the most
important things that we do," spokeswoman Kristin Kragseth was
cited as saying by the Aftenposten on Wednesday.
"Regardless of where we are in the world, it is important to
us to maintain high ethical standards, follow rules and
regulations and respects local culture. We do that in Equatorial
Guinea as we do in Norway and all the other countries we operate
Kragseth did not immediately respond to requests for further
comment, and U.S. Exxon officials could not immediately be
reached for comment.
U.S. energy companies Marathon Oil and Hess Corp
also operate fields in Equatorial Guinea. The oil fund
owned 0.76 percent of Marathon Oil and 0.69 percent of Hess at
the end of 2012, according to Reuters data.
Officials at both Marathon Oil and Hess could not
immediately be reached for comment.
Equatorial Guinea is nominally one of Africa's richest
countries with a GDP per capita of more than $27,000 per year,
according to the World Bank, putting it ahead of Portugal and
just below Spain. Even so, much of the 720,000 population lives
in deep poverty.
The country was ranked among "the worst of the worst" civil
liberty abusers in a 2012 survey by democracy group Freedom
House. President Teodor Obiang Nguema has been in power in the
tiny central African state for more than three decades, and his
son is wanted in both the United States and France on corruption
The Norwegian fund's ethics council makes its
recommendations to Norway's finance ministry, which has ultimate
responsibility for the fund.
The fund last excluded The Babcock & Wilcox Co. and
Jacobs Engineering Group Plc in January, citing their
involvement in the production of nuclear weapons.