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On September 29, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended Directive 1 and Directive 2 of its Ukrainian-/Russian-related Sectoral Sanctions, as required by the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (H.R. 3364), which was signed into law by President Trump in August. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) As amended, Directive 1 prohibits U.S. persons from all dealings in equity issued on or after July 16, 2014, of persons determined by OFAC to be part of the Russian financial services sector. Directive 1 also prohibits U.S. persons from dealing in the following debt of such persons: (i) debt of over 90 days maturity issued on or after July 16, 2014, but prior to September 12, 2014; (ii) debt of over 30 days maturity issued on or after September 12, 2014, but before November 28, 2017; and (iii) debt of over 14 days maturity issued on or after November 28, 2017. As amended, Directive 2 prohibits U.S. persons from all dealings in the following debt of persons identified by OFAC to be part of the Russian energy sector: (i) all debt of over 90 days maturity issued on or after July 16, , but before November 28, 2017; and (ii) all debt of over 60 days maturity issued on or after November 28, 2017. OFAC also released updated FAQs to answer questions related to the amended directives.
OFAC Imposes Additional North Korean Sanctions; Senate Banking Committee Hearing Discusses Multi-Department Efforts
On September 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on an additional eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals connected to North Korean financial networks across the globe. The individuals sanctioned are North Korean nationals who represent North Korean banks operating in China, Russia, Libya, and the UAE, and have been designated “in response to North Korea’s ongoing development of weapons of mass destruction and continued violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions.” OFAC’s action complements the United Nations Security Council’s resolution UNSCR 2375, adopted September 11, 2017. As a result, property or interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdictions are blocked.
These actions closely follow President Trump’s recent issuance of sanctions targeting individuals, companies, and financial institutions that finance or facilitate trade with North Korea. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
Additionally, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (Committee) held an open session hearing on September 28 entitled “Evaluating Sanction Enforcement and Policy Options on North Korea: Administration Perspectives.” Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the hearing to stress that “[m]any Members of Congress, including on this committee, have a keen interest in knowing more about how and when enforcement of these new measures will occur, wondering if last week’s executive order and earlier UN sanctions will be sufficient to achieve U.S. policy goals.” Sen. Crapo also mentioned the Committee’s legislative efforts to “maximize pressure against North Korea.”
The September 28 hearing—a video of which can be accessed here—included testimony from the following witnesses concerning North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and the need to curtail the country’s access to revenue, trade, and financial systems.
- The Honorable Sigal Madelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, U.S. Department of the Treasury (testimony)
- Ms. Susan A. Thornton, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State (testimony)
On September 21, President Trump announced the issuance of new sanctions targeting individuals, companies, and financial institutions that finance or facilitate trade with North Korea, in addition to tightening trade restrictions. The Executive Order approves broad limitations on any foreign financial institution that knowingly conducts “significant” transactions involving North Korea. This includes transactions that “originate from, are destined for, or pass through a foreign bank account that has been determined by the Secretary of the Treasury to be owned or controlled by a North Korean person, or to have been used to transfer funds in which any North Korean person has an interest.” These funds “are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in.” The restrictions also prohibit dealing with persons involved in North Korea’s “construction, energy, financial services, fishing, information technology, manufacturing, medical, mining, textiles, or transportation industries,” and further authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to restrict U.S.-based correspondent and payable-through accounts.
These sanctions are in addition to those previously passed by President Trump in August. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here.) Separately, as previously covered in InfoBytes, last month the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions against certain Chinese and Russian entities and individuals, among others, for allegedly aiding North Korea’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
In response to President Trump’s latest sanctions, OFAC released updates to its FAQs concerning the additional sanctions. OFAC also issued General License 10 concerning the authorization restrictions to certain vessels and aircraft, and General License 3-A, which addresses permitted “normal service charges.”
On August 22, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on ten entities and six individuals from China, Russia, Singapore, and Namibia for their roles in supporting North Korea’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and attempted evasion of U.S. sanctions. The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with the designated entities and individuals, and further states that “any property or interests in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.” OFAC’s notice identified entities and individuals that (i) assisted already-designated persons supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs; (ii) dealt in the North Korean energy trade; (iii) facilitated overseas labor to North Korea; and (iv) enabled sanctioned North Korean entities to access the U.S. and international financial systems. Targets include three Chinese coal companies allegedly responsible for importing nearly half a billion dollars' worth of North Korean coal, as well as three Russians individuals and two Singapore-based companies OFAC claimed were involved in providing oil to North Korea.
OFAC Assesses $2 Million Penalty Against International Oil and Gas Company for Violations of Ukraine-Related Sanctions
On July 20, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced a $2 million civil money penalty assessed against an international oil and gas company, including two of its U.S. subsidiaries, for alleged violations of OFAC’s Ukraine-Related sanctions regulations. OFAC claims that, in May 2014, the company impermissibly dealt in services of a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation who had been placed on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDNs) by signing eight legal documents related to oil and gas projects in Russia with the individual. Although the company claimed that it believed such actions were permissible, OFAC noted that the “plain language of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions” clearly indicates otherwise. In particular, OFAC stated that the sanctions blocked “any property and interests in property, and prohibited any dealing in any property and interests in property, of a person so designated.” In addition, the sanctions expressly forbid U.S. persons from “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person,” and, according to OFAC, do not differentiate between an individual’s “personal” and “professional” capacity—a distinction the company tried to make.
Thus, concluded OFAC, information available at the time of the alleged violations “clearly put [the company] on notice that OFAC would consider executing documents with an SDN to violate the prohibitions in the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.” The $2 million penalty was the largest that OFAC could impose under statute. OFAC imposed the penalty based on the following factors: (i) the company did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations; (ii) the company demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by disregarding clear warning signs; (iii) the company’s senior-most executives knew of the official’s status as an SDN when it executed the legal documents; (iv) the company caused significant harm to the sanctions program by dealing with a senior official of the Russian Federation; and (v) the company is a sophisticated and experienced oil company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services and technology subject to U.S. economic sanctions and export controls.
On December 20, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction seven individuals and eight entities in connection with Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine. OFAC also identified 26 subsidiaries of Russian banks as subject to sanctions already in place on their parent companies. Among other things, the sanctions prohibit U.S. residents, citizens, and financial institutions from participating in various financial dealings with the companies. As explained by John E. Smith, acting director of Treasury’s sanctions enforcement office, the sanctions were introduced “in response to Russia's unlawful occupation of Crimea and continued aggression in Ukraine” in order to “maintain pressure on Russia by sustaining the costs of its occupation of Crimea and disrupting the activities of those who support the violence and instability in Ukraine.” Concurrent with today’s announcement, OFAC also issued a Russia/Ukraine-related General License 11, which authorizes certain transactions “necessary to requesting, contracting for, paying for, receiving, or utilizing a project design review or permit from FAU Glavgosekspertiza Rossii’s office(s) in the Russian Federation.”
On January 16, the Department of the Treasury issued a statement regarding Implementation Day under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1 (the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany), the European Union, and Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In response to Iran taking the appropriate nuclear-related measures, the United States followed through on lifting nuclear-related “secondary sanctions” on Iran, which included certain financial and banking-related sanctions. To summarize the effect of Implementation Day, OFAC issued guidance and FAQs. As outlined in the FAQs and in addition to lifting the nuclear-related “secondary sanctions,” the United States removed more than 400 individuals and entities from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). Still, as Treasury Secretary Lew noted, “other than certain limited exceptions provided for in the JCPOA, the U.S. embargo broadly remains in place, meaning that U.S. persons, including U.S. banks, will still be prohibited from virtually all dealings with Iranian entities.”
On March 11, OFAC updated its Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) list comprising of individuals and entities including a Russian national bank, Russian National Commercial Bank. The SDN list identifies persons and entities with which U.S. citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from doing business and whose assets or interests in assets that come within U.S. jurisdiction must be frozen.
On May 8, OFAC issued regulations to implement recent Executive Orders establishing sanctions against Russian individuals and entities related to the situation in Ukraine. The Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589, implement Executive Order 13660 of March 6, 2014, Executive Order 13661 of March 17, 2014, and Executive Order 13662 of March 20, 2014. Consistent with its prior practice, OFAC published the regulations in abbreviated form and plans to provide a more comprehensive set of regulations, which may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance and additional general licenses and statements of licensing policy.
On April 28, the Treasury Department announced additional sanctions in response to developments in Ukraine by designating seven Russian government officials and 17 entities, including numerous financial institutions, pursuant to Executive Order 13661. That order authorizes sanctions on, among others, officials of the Russian Government and any individual or entity that is owned or controlled by, that has acted for or on behalf of, or that has provided material or other support to, a senior Russian government official. The designated individuals will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and the companies will be subject to an asset freeze. In addition, the Department of Commerce imposed additional restrictions on 13 of the companies by imposing a license requirement with a presumption of denial for the export, re-export or other foreign transfer of U.S.-origin items to the companies. Further, the Departments of Commerce and State tightened review of export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities, and plan to revoke any existing export licenses that meet the tightened conditions.
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