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On June 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against 24 individuals and entities for providing significant investment support to the Syrian government. According to OFAC, the designations include Treasury’s “first implementation of sanctions pursuant to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019,” and involve actions taken against a holding company, a private sector investment venture, and luxury tourism developments. Concurrent with OFAC’s sanctions, the U.S. State Department also designated 15 persons, including President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, pursuant to Executive Order 13984, which focuses on persons identified as “obstructing, disrupting, or preventing a ceasefire or a political solution to the Syrian conflict.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or those within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons,” and warned non-U.S. persons that engage in transactions with the designated persons may expose themselves to designation. OFAC also referenced a previously published Fact Sheet (covered by InfoBytes here), which highlights the most pertinent exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related sanctions programs to ensure humanitarian-related trade and assistance reaches at-risk populations through legitimate and transparent channels during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Special Alert: OFAC encourages humanitarian aid, promises consideration of Covid-19 compliance challenges
The Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently took two actions to address the impact of Covid-19. First, OFAC issued a fact sheet that consolidates existing authorizations and guidance permitting humanitarian, agricultural, and medical aid to six jurisdictions subject to sanctions. Second, OFAC encouraged companies facing compliance challenges due to Covid-19 to shift resources to higher-risk areas, noting that it would take this move into consideration if it leads to a violation during the pandemic. Companies facing compliance challenges may wish to consider such a shift, while documenting their risk-based rationale for doing so.
Humanitarian fact sheet
Last week, OFAC issued a fact sheet regarding the provision of Covid-19-related assistance under its Iran, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Ukraine/Russia, and Venezuela sanctions regimes. The fact sheet made no changes to existing laws and guidance, but consolidated existing licenses, exemptions, authorizations, and related FAQs relevant to humanitarian aid and medical equipment for these regimes. The fact sheet should prove to be a valuable resource for financial institutions and other organizations confronting a wave of transactions to provide personal protective equipment to sanctions-targeted jurisdictions wracked by Covid-19, while complying with OFAC regulations.
On April 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a Fact Sheet providing guidance to ensure humanitarian-related trade and assistance reaches at-risk populations through legitimate and transparent channels during the global Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Fact Sheet highlights the most pertinent exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related sanctions programs. OFAC notes, however, that under certain sanctions program, entities may be required to obtain separate authorization from other U.S. government agencies. The Fact Sheet also provides guidance for persons seeking to export personal protective equipment from the U.S. Additional questions regarding the scope or applicability of any humanitarian-related authorizations can be directed to OFAC’s Sanction Compliance and Evaluation Division.
On March 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it extended the expiration dates of two Ukraine-related general licenses (GLs) by issuing GL 13N, which supersedes GL 13M, and GL 15H, which supersedes GL 15G. Both GLs—which now expire July 22—authorize certain transactions necessary to divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings, or wind down operations or existing contracts with a Russian manufacturer previously sanctioned by OFAC in April 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here).
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Ukraine.
On March 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13850 against a Russian oil brokerage firm for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy. According to OFAC, following the February 18 designation of a Swiss-incorporated, Russian-controlled oil brokerage and its board chairman and president (covered by InfoBytes here), cargoes of Venezuelan oil allocated to the designated company were charged to the newly sanctioned brokerage firm in order to evade U.S. sanctions. In connection with the designation, OFAC issued Venezuela General License 36A, which authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under E.O.s 13850 and 13857 that are required in order to wind down business with the company. Concurrently, OFAC issued amended FAQ 817 and FAQ 818 to address the significance of OFAC’s designation of the company, and whether there is a wind-down period. OFAC reiterated that “all property and interests in property of [the brokerage firm] that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated individual and entity, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.”
On February 18, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13850, as amended, against a Swiss-incorporated, Russian-controlled oil brokerage and its board chairman and president for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy. According to the press release, the company assisted Venezuela state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., in brokering, selling, and transporting Venezuelan petroleum products.
In connection with the designations, OFAC issued Venezuela General License (GL) 36, titled “Authorizing Certain Activities Necessary to the Wind Down of Transactions Involving [company].” GL 36, which expires on May 20, authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under E.O.s 13850 and 13857 that are required in order to wind down business with the company. Concurrently, OFAC issued a new Venezuela-related frequently asked question regarding GL 36, addressing the significance of OFAC’s designation of the company, and whether the E.O. 13850 blocking sanctions on the company apply to its corporate parent and affiliates. In its press release, OFAC added that “all property and interests in property of [the company] and [its president] that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated individual and entity, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.”
On January 29, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it took action against seven “Crimean Officials” backed by Russia, and a Russian railway company and its CEO. The announcement states that the officials unilaterally assumed governmental control of the Crimean Peninsula. OFAC designated the officials under Executive Order (E.O.) 13660, in partnership with Canada and the European Union (EU), which both also designated the officials “in a strong demonstration of the international community’s continued condemnation of Russia’s interference in Crimean politics.” According to the announcement, Secretary of the Treasury, Steven T. Mnuchin, asserts that he believes the coordinated designations by OFAC and the two nations may prevent the “illegitimate officials” from doing business internationally. The OFAC designations of the railway company and its CEO for operating in the Crimea Region of Ukraine under E.O. 13685, come shortly after the railway started a passenger route from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula in late December. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these individuals and entity that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign persons that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated persons, they may be designated themselves.
On December 20, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), published a new Ukraine-/Russia-related FAQ. FAQ 815 explains that Section 7503 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, or the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 became effective immediately upon the President signing it on December 20. This section—entitled “Imposition of sanctions with respect to provision of certain vessels for the construction of certain Russian energy export pipelines”—specifies that parties who have knowingly provided vessels engaged in deep sea pipe laying for the Nord Stream 2 or Turkstream pipelines must ensure that such vessels cease such activity as soon as safely possible in order to protect human life and “avoid any environmental or other significant damage.”
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.
OFAC announces sanctions against Russia-based organization for malware attacks on financial institutions
On December 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13694 against a Russia-based cybercriminal organization for allegedly developing and distributing malware that infected financial institutions and resulted in more than $100 million in theft. OFAC’s action targets 17 individuals and seven entities and is “intended to disrupt the massive phishing campaigns orchestrated by [the organization],” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin stated. According to OFAC, the organization used the malware to infect computers and harvest login credentials from roughly 300 banks and financial institutions in over 40 countries, resulting in millions of dollars of damage to U.S. and international financial institutions and their customers. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of these persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, along with “any entities 50 percent or more owned by one or more designated persons.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with designated persons, and warned that “foreign persons may be subject to secondary sanctions for knowingly facilitating a significant transaction or transactions with these designated persons.”
In a concurrent action announced the same day, the DOJ unsealed criminal charges—including those related to international computer hacking and bank fraud schemes—against two of the organization’s members. In addition, Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency released a report providing a technical analysis of the malware and related variants, emphasizing that because the malware continues to target the financial services sector, financial institutions should review and incorporate the report’s techniques, tactics, and procedures into existing network defense capabilities and planning.
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