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Poizner pushes Iran divestiture

California insurance companies that own stock in some multinational companies that operate in Iran soon may have to sell their holdings or face penalties.

In June, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, a Republican running for governor next year, ordered 1,300 California-licensed insurers to give him information about indirect investments in Iran’s nuclear, oil, defense and banking sectors. About 1,100 replied, and 200 didn’t.

Now, Poizner, at a news conference scheduled for this morning at Los Angeles’ Museum of Tolerance, is expected to detail how the insurers would be required to divest themselves of stock that he estimates is worth at least $6 billion.

“The regime in Iran is attempting to dominate the region and is a huge national security threat to this country,” Poizner said. “It is very important for anyone in a position like I am to look for a way to put maximum financial pressure on Iran.”

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Part of Poizner’s job is to oversee how insurance companies invest surplus funds. And he says he wants to send a message that California does not want to support a nation that the U.S. government has listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. American companies are prohibited from making direct investments in Iran, but indirect investments are not illegal.

Representatives of the insurance industry were reluctant to comment on the commissioner’s Iran initiative. “We have not questioned his authority to ask for this information,” said Ken Gibson of the American Insurance Assn. in Sacramento.

Poizner’s Iran divestment policy is the first to be ordered by insurance regulators in any of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The California commissioner said he intended to discuss his plan with his counterparts at a meeting of the National Assn. of Insurance Commissioners that starts Saturday in San Francisco.

Under Poizner’s plan, insurers that already have reported indirect investments in the Islamic republic would be given 30 days to agree voluntarily to unload their stock or bonds in foreign companies, such as Chinese or Russian oil companies or German electronics firms, that operate in Iran. They would then have 90 days to sell the securities.

Insurers that refuse to report on indirect investments or fail to divest could be penalized with administrative fines or loss of their licenses to sell insurance policies in California.

Poizner also will subpoena 10 top executives from among the 200 companies that did not respond to his calls for information.

“There shouldn’t be money coming from hardworking Californians as they pay their insurance premium dollars . . . to prop up the repressive regime in Iran,” Poizner said. “This is a loophole that I’m going to close.”

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

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