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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urges superannuation funds to dump Russian assets

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Australia’s $3.5 trillion superannuation industry has been urged by the federal government to dump Russian assets.

The government has a “strong expectation” that the funds will “review their investment portfolios and take steps to divest any holdings in Russian assets”, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday.

While super funds only have a small exposure to Russian investments, releasing Russian assets will bolster the range of sanctions imposed by Australia to exert pressure on Russia, he said.

“It is important that Australia sends a clear and unequivocal signal that we condemn in the strongest possible terms Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified attack on Ukraine,” Mr Frydenberg said.

Australian miners and a handful of superannuation funds have started to sever their Russian ties, as a global push to isolate Moscow gathers pace.

Russian businessman Maxim Mayorets has agreed to step down from the board of Falcon Oil and Gas, which is a partner in Origin Energy’s Beetaloo Basin gas project in the Northern Territory.

But resources heavyweight Rio Tinto continues to co-own one of Australia’s largest alumina refineries, Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL), with Russian aluminium giant Rusal.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine and related sanctions,” a Rio Tinto spokesman said.

“We are confident that we have appropriate structures in place to ensure QAL’s operations will not be disrupted.”

The sovereign Future Fund says it will wind down its exposure to Russia, including assets not currently subject to divestment sanctions, as market conditions permit.

The fund holds about 0.1 per cent of the fund, or about $200 million, in companies listed on the Russian stock exchange but no Russian sovereign debt or other fixed income assets.

Australia has also joined fellow central banks in putting the squeeze on Russia, preventing $8 billion worth of Australian bonds from being cashed in by the Bank of Russia.

Since last week’s invasion of Ukraine, more than 400 Russian individuals and entities have been added to the “Consolidated List” – a register of people and entities subject to financial sanctions – that is maintained by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Rusal owns one-fifth of the QAL refinery in Gladstone but is not on the sanctioned entities list.

Falcon’s Mr Mayorets and the Russian oligarch he represents, Viktor Vekselberg, are also not listed.

Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility spokesman Dan Gocher said the resignation of Mr Mayorets was “window dressing”.

“Vekselberg stands to personally benefit from any successful exploration that Origin is conducting in the Beetaloo Basin,” Mr Gocher said.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt told AAP that unlocking the Beetaloo Basin was key to the Australian government’s plans for a gas-fired recovery.

“Recent events around the world are demonstrating the critical importance of secure energy supplies for national security and national sovereignty” he said.

“The situation in Ukraine is deeply concerning and the Australian government is monitoring developments closely and providing support.”

Origin said in a statement to investors it is “appalled by the Russian aggression and invasion of Ukraine”.

Origin has operations across Australia, Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific, and says it is monitoring the situation, and will adhere to sanctions imposed by Australia and other governments.

Andrew Leigh, Labor’s shadow assistant treasurer, said the federal government needed to crack down on tax havens and tighten anti-money laundering laws to track the sources of Vladimir Putin’s “illicit cash”.

There are estimates that Mr Putin’s personal wealth could be as high as $US200 billion, with money sitting in tax havens and shell companies.

Financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC and major banks have been alerted to look out for suspicious transactions following the sanctions imposed by Australia.

Selected Russian banks have also been removed from the international payments system SWIFT, making it harder for Russian individuals and companies to shift money.

-AAP

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