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Ky. teacher pension program responds to false Russian investment claims

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The Kentucky Teachers Retirement System responded on Monday to false claims spread on social media about its investments in a Russian bank. 

Addressing lawmakers at a pension oversight committee, Teacher Retirement System (TRS) spokesperson Beau Barnes said the pension program is still dealing with the fallout after a social media post went viral last week. The post falsely claimed TRS was the second-largest shareholder in Sberbank, one of the biggest banks in Russia. Both local and national outlets picked up the story. 

“Those social media media postings that TRS is the number-two shareholder in Sberbank are completely false,” Barnes told the committee. “TRS is not now, nor has it ever been, the number-two shareholder in Sberbank. Not even close.”

Barnes said TRS had $15 million dollars invested in Sberbank, beginning in 2017, but that the pension fund sold the shares on Feb. 23 — ahead of expected financial sanctions

Barnes called the investment “a drop in the bucket” for the $26 billion dollar pension program, and minimal for an institution as massive as Sberbank.

“It’s almost a ridiculous thought that $15 million would represent a number-two shareholder position in Sberbank,” he said.

Barnes said TRS sold the shares for $12 million, but that the pension system saw an overall small net gain because of dividends earned on the investment while it was held.

Still, the false or misleading reports caused panic, Barnes said, “with worried members who are reading things like, ‘TRS is bankrupt because of Russian investments and pensions can’t be paid.’”

Those claims are not true. According to Barnes, the pension system lost no money due to its Sberbank investment.

Some lawmakers and members of the public had concerns as to why TRS held any Russian investments in the first place. Barnes said it’s common practice for portfolios like TRS’s.

“If you have an international portfolio, you’re going to have investments in a lot of countries all across the globe. And it’s no surprise that you’re going to have some–though it’s very minor, very tiny–investment in Russia,” he said.

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