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District Court voids OFAC fine of $2 million

Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons Russia Courts

Financial Crimes

On December 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas vacated a $2 million civil penalty imposed on a global petroleum company (company) by OFAC for the company’s purported violation of sanctions, ruling that the OFAC regulations did not provide “fair notice” to the company that its actions were prohibited. In May of 2014, OFAC issued sanctions regulations relating to Ukraine. Shortly afterwards, the company and a Russian oil company, with which it had a long-established business relationship, executed several contracts. Although the Russian company was not a blocked entity, its president, who signed the contracts, had been named a specially designated national (SDN). In July of 2014, OFAC issued a penalty notice with a $2 million penalty to the company, alleging that the contracts the company executed with the Russian company violated the Ukraine-related sanctions. The company immediately challenged the penalty notice and fine, asserting that at the time it entered into the subject transactions, the OFAC regulations on Ukraine were not clear, and it interpreted them to allow the transactions. The court agreed with the company, holding that the “text of the regulations does not provide fair notice of its interpretation” in accordance with the Due Process Clause, because “the text [of the regulation] does not ‘fairly address’ whether a U.S. entity receives a service from a SDN when that SDN performs a service enabling the U.S. person to contract with a non-blocked entity. Therefore, the court granted the company’s motion for summary judgment and vacated OFAC’s Penalty Notice.

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