Weird Out West: Utah Pension Fund and Chinese Espionage? Congressman Raises Security Concerns Over Deal

Asset management and espionage are both high stakes games. So when they come together, it simply must be written about.

Here’s the weird story out of Utah this week:

The Utah Retirement System is (maybe?) in the process selling a hotel in its portfolio to Chinese buyers.

But one California Congressman is urging the pension fund to nix the deal due to espionage concerns: the hotel is a frequent stop for U.S. officials, and sits next to several U.S. customs buildings.

The Salt Lake Tribune summarizes:

[The Congressman and union] say the pension fund for 200,000 public employees is considering selling the Westin Long Beach Hotel — which URS owns as an investment in California — to Chinese buyers. The critics further suggest that the Chinese might use the property to spy on next-door U.S. agencies at the busy port of Long Beach or on federal officials who have contracts with the hotel and use it often.

“The sale of the Westin Long Beach raises national security questions,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., who represents the Long Beach area, wrote last month to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.

[…]

Lowenthal noted in his letter that the hotel is at the second-busiest port in America and next door to customs offices there that house sensitive information.

Also, “U.S. government clients with sensitive national security information” have contracts with the hotel and use it often, he said, including the Defense Department, Homeland Security, Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

We’re treating this story a little flippantly, but it’s not an unreasonable request by the Congressman. The U.S. has a committee, comprised of members of various federal agencies, that reviews foreign investments in the U.S. for precisely this reason.

URS, as is standard practice, isn’t disclosing whether they are selling the hotel. It’s also possible the Chinese buyers have made an offer even as the hotel sits off the market.

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