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N.J. to bar investments tied to Iran

Under a bill sent to Corzine, state pension funds cannot buy stock in firms that do business there.

TRENTON - New Jersey moved yesterday toward becoming one of the few states to prohibit state pension money from being invested in companies doing business in Iran.

The move is designed to protest Iran's links to terrorism and its nuclear ambitions.

Most U.S. companies are barred from doing business in Iran, but the state Senate voted, 34-0, to restrict the state from buying stock in international companies that do business with Iran. The Assembly voted, 78-1, in June to approve the measure.

It goes to Democratic Gov. Corzine for his signature.

Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton said the governor's office was reviewing the bill, but added: "Investment strategy can be a powerful tool to bring about change. Gov. Corzine supports the concept of using the state's leverage as an investor to promote peace and prosperity."

This year, Florida became the first state to approve such a law, according to the Center for Security Policy, a Washington nonprofit that pushes states to divest public money from countries linked to terrorism.

Florida's law also banned investments in Sudan, and the board governing Florida's public employee retirement fund authorized it to divest nearly $1.3 billion in 21 firms doing business with the two nations.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation in October to end state investment in companies that do business with Iran.

"Divesting is a key component of preventing Iran from their efforts to oppress their citizens, terrorize their neighbors, and spread hatred throughout the world," New Jersey Sen. Robert Singer (R., Ocean) said. "New Jersey shouldn't be complicit in perpetuating human-rights violations and the spreading of terrorism."

New Jersey Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D., Union) cited anti-Israeli comments from Iranian leaders. "Divesting our finances from entities associated with Iran will send a clear message in the universal language of money that New Jersey will have no part in Iran's pursuit of actions that would lead to Holocaust-like genocide and the complete destruction of a sovereign nation," he said.

The state's pension fund is worth about $80 billion. It was unclear how much is invested in companies doing business in Iran. The legislation requires the state to hire an independent research firm specializing in global securities to identify such investments.