(First published in Norwegian 02 Dec 2005)
By Pia Gaarder
The admission by Financial Manager Åke Altéus that the Nobel Institute never has given fund managers verbal ethical guidelines is in total contradiction to earlier statements by the director of the Nobel Institute, Michael Sohlman.
Norwatch has revealed that the Swedish Nobel Institute lacks ethical guidelines for investment of the Nobel assets and that they keep the exact contents of the portfolio secret. The SEK3 billion (€ 337 mill.) in assets is managed by seven different fund managers, and the dividends finance the all the Nobel prizes, including the Peace Prize. Norwatch examined the fund portfolios of one of the managers, the American company T Rowe Price, and found that the Nobel prize may be financed by, among other things, cluster bombs, contractors to the American defence industry, and controversial gene technology.
The case attracted much attention and has since revealed total contradiction in the statements of two central persons in the Swedish Nobel Institute. Finance Manager Åke Altéus told Norwatch that fund managers have absolutely no ethical restrictions. And to the newspaper Dagsavisen, which made a big case out of it, he said quite plainly that the Nobel Institute had not instructed T Rowe Price to stay away from nuclear weapons and cluster bombs.
The day after, however, Michael Sohlman said that he is constantly in touch with the fund managers about ethical problems. And suddenly it was revealed that the Nobel Institute makes ethical demands on the managers about, for example, avoiding certain weapons producers.
“We have not invested in companies associated with cluster bombs and nuclear weapons. We do not invest in companies that primarily make weapons,” Sohlman told Dagsavisen.
Now, however, Finance Manager Altéus admits to Norwatch that the institute never has made ethical demands on their fund managers, not even verbally – at least not until Norwatch reported the lack of ethical guidelines. At the same time the finance manager denies that there are contradictions between his own and Sohlman’s statements in this case.
“What Michael Sohlman said about ethical guidelines for the institute’s portfolio in no way contradicts what I have said. The fact is that our managers have no written restrictions but that we are continuously informed about how our managers invest our capital. One of the many important points of discussion is how ethical considerations are incorporated into the investment process,” Altéus wrote in an e-mail to Norwatch.
On being asked whether this means that the Nobel Institute had, already before the case was brought up in the media, given clear verbal instructions to the managers, Altéus answered with a single word: “No.”.
In other words, the Nobel Institute had not given its fund managers verbal ethical guidelines, at least not until Norwatch raised the question. If the Nobel funds neither are nor have been invested in controversial weapons production, then this is still the result of coincidences and not a deliberate political choice by the Nobel Institute.
Still No Access
It is still impossible to ascertain how the Nobel assets are invested, because the institute will not give up its secrecy.
Norwatch has again asked the Nobel Institute for a copy of the portfolio, both how it was a month ago and how it looks today. But the answer is still no.
“We have no intention of changing our policy about not disclosing the individual investments in our portfolio,” Altéus wrote to Norwatch.
16.01.06 The Nobel Foundation without ethical control