Harvard Still Holds Sudan Stake

Through index fund, school owns estimated $6.6 million in PetroChina, Sinopec stock

Harvard’s endowment is still invested in two Chinese oil firms accused of financing the genocide in Sudan, even though the University has said it would divest its shares in both companies.

The investments in PetroChina and Sinopec are held indirectly through a mutual fund managed by the British bank Barclays. Through that arrangement, Harvard owns an estimated $6.6 million in stock in the oil companies.

The University’s link to PetroChina lingers despite the Harvard Corporation’s April 2005 announcement that "the unique pattern of circumstances relating PetroChina to the crisis in Sudan counsels in favor of taking the extraordinary step of divestment."

In March of last year, Harvard extended the scope of its divestiture to Sinopec, whose full name is China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. "The particular combination of circumstances bearing on Sinopec Corporation’s involvement in oil production activities in Sudan warrants the unusual step of divestment," Harvard announced at the time.

The Crimson discovered Harvard’s remaining ties to PetroChina and Sinopec yesterday by examining the University’s filings with federal regulators as well as information made publicly available by Barclays.

Interim President Derek C. Bok wrote in an e-mail yesterday: "I haven’t any knowledge at all about PetroChina or any dealings with it by the University, past or present."

"All of this must relate to something that happened before I returned to duty," added Bok, who took office on July 1.

Harvard endowment chief Mohamed A. El-Erian did not return an e-mail sent yesterday afternoon seeking comment. University spokesman John D. Longbrake said that the school does not comment on individual investments.

PetroChina’s parent company, the China National Petroleum Corporation, and Sinopec are both members of a consortium known as Petrodar that is aiding the Sudanese government in the development of the east African country’s oil industry. The companies’ combined investment in the Sudanese oil industry totals to well over $1 billion, and profits from the industry are a major source of revenue for the Sudanese government.

Arab militias in Darfur, with support from the Sudanese government, have uprooted and exterminated black Muslim villagers in a campaign that the State Department and Congress both call a “genocide.” More than 400,000 people have died in the four-year-old conflict, and more than two million have lost their homes, according to U.N. officials’ estimates.

A TANGLED WEB

Harvard’s most recent filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission disclosed that the University held 492,493 shares in Barclays’ iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 fund on Sept. 30, 2006. If Harvard has maintained that stake, its holdings in the fund would now amount to $52.2 million.

The iShares fund allows participants to spread their investments across 25 of China’s largest companies. Each participant’s stake in the fund is distributed across the entire portfolio. Barclays discloses the company-by-company breakdown of the fund’s investments on its Web site.

As of Friday, the fund had invested 8.4 percent of its assets in PetroChina. If Harvard has kept its shares in the fund, the University’s holdings in PetroChina would now total $4.4 million.

An additional 4.2 percent of the iShares fund’s holdings are invested in Sinopec—putting Harvard’s holdings in Sinopec at an estimated $2.2 million.

Harvard has no control over the iShares fund’s investments. The fund allocates assets according to a formula developed by a joint venture of the Financial Times, the London Stock Exchange, and the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

The University first bought a stake in the iShares fund in the first three months of 2005, just before the school publicly announced its decision to divest from PetroChina, according to an examination of past filings with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Harvard reported a $4.1 million stake in the iShares fund as of March 31, 2005. It appears to have dropped its iShares investment in the first three months of 2006, but by June 30, Harvard owned a $36.7 million slice of the fund.

Even at its present size, Harvard’s estimated investment in the iShares China fund accounts for just 0.18 percent of the University's $29.2 billion endowment, and the stakes in PetroChina and Sinopec compose just 0.02 percent of Harvard's total wealth.

Only a small portion of Harvard’s holdings—less than one-fifth of the entire endowment—must be publicly disclosed under federal regulations. The SEC requires the school to list its holdings in stocks traded on domestic exchanges as well as investment vehicles such as the iShares fund.

LEADING THE PACK

Harvard’s ties to the Sudanese government first gained attention in October 2004, when The Crimson reported that the University held an estimated $3.9 million stake in PetroChina.

Later that month, Manav K. Bhatnagar ’06 and Benjamin B. Collins ’06, both Eliot House juniors at the time, launched an online petition calling on Harvard to pledge that it would not invest in stocks tied to Sudan.

The petition had garnered about 1,000 signatures by the following April, when Harvard bowed to divestment demands and sold its PetroChina stock. All seven other Ivy League schools subsequently announced divestitures from Sudan-related stocks.

“I would hope that Harvard would honor the commitments that it made regarding divestment from Sudan,” Collins said yesterday when informed of the remaining holdings.

Harvard “had access to public information disclosing the companies that make up the fund. This is either an unfortunate lapse in oversight or an abandonment of the Harvard Corporation’s moral stand against the genocide and the military-oil nexus that fuels it,” added Bhatnagar.

Divestment advocate John Prendergast, who was director of African affairs for the National Security Council under President Clinton, said that Harvard should pull out of the iShares fund.

“If correct, this points to the hidden danger of divestment: that shares in companies considered divested still continue to be owned indirectly through mutual funds and other equity arrangements,” Prendergast wrote in an e-mail. “A fuller scrub of all investment tools is required, and shouldn’t be left to university newspapers to uncover.”

—Staff writer Daniel J. Hemel can be reached at hemel@fas.harvard.edu.

Read The Crimson's initial report on Harvard's PetroChina ties: Endowment Tied to Sudan; University bought stock in oil firm that activists say helped fuel genocide.