EXCLUSIVE Connecticut treasurer orders pension funds to divest Russian assets

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March 1 (Reuters) - Connecticut Treasurer Shawn Wooden on Tuesday will direct state pension funds to sell Russian assets, one of the most direct steps by a U.S. pension official to date in response to Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement sent by a spokesperson, Wooden said the sales were needed both for moral reasons and to reduce investment risk in the state retirement funds, worth more than $47 billion in all.

The names and exact amounts of specific securities to be sold were not immediately available. State funds held $218 million worth of Russian-domiciled investments as of Feb. 24.

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“Connecticut’s action today will apply further economic pain on a dangerous autocrat who needs to know that the free world stands in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s abhorrent actions will have enduring, harrowing economic consequences in the days, months, and years ahead," Wooden said in the statement.

Connecticut has cut holdings in Russian-domiciled companies and Russian sovereign debt since 2014, Wooden's office said, as risk concerns, previous sanctions and cyberattacks made Russian markets less favorable.

As sole trustee of the Connecticut Retirement Plans and Trust Funds, Wooden has more power to act than pension leaders in some other U.S. states.

On Monday, California Treasurer Fiona Ma said she supports divesting Russian assets from plans like the California Public Employees' Retirement System, where she is a board member and which has around $1 billion in Russian assets.

But another board member, state Controller Betty Yee, stopped short of calling for divestment. read more

Energy giants BP and Shell (SHEL.L) and global bank HSBC (HSBA.L) are among a growing list of companies looking to exit Russia as the United States and Europe impose stiffening sanctions, and Moscow responds. read more

So far major U.S. investment firms with Russian holdings have offered little comment about their intentions, however. read more

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Reporting by Ross Kerber; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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