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OFAC identifies Venezuelan aircraft as blocked property, issues amended Venezuela-related general licenses
On January 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments to the list of property implicated by the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13884, which blocks the property of the Venezuelan government. OFAC identified 15 aircraft that either transported senior members of the Maduro regime or “operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner in proximity to U.S. military aircraft, while in international air space.” OFAC reiterated that its “regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.”
In connection with the designations, OFAC issued amended Venezuela General License (GL) 20B, titled “Authorizing Official Activities of Certain International Organizations Involving the Government of Venezuela.” GL 20B authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under E.O.s 13850 and 13857 involving Banco Central de Venezuela, and E.O. 13884 involving the Government of Venezuela.
Earlier, on January 17, OFAC issued two additional amended Venezuela GLs. GL 5B provides that on or after April 22, all transactions related to the financing for, and other dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela SA 2020 8.5 Percent Bond that would be prohibited under a certain subsection of E.O. 13835, as amended by E.O. 13857, are authorized. GL 8E, titled “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for Maintenance of Operations for Certain Entities in Venezuela,” supersedes GL 8D to extend the expiration date for certain authorizations through April 22.
On January 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Iran-related Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) 816, which addresses the question, “Is there a wind-down period for Executive Order [(E.O.)] 13902?” (previously covered in InfoBytes here). According to the FAQ, individuals and entities involved in activities that qualify as sanctionable under E.O. 13902, which include activities dealing with the mining, construction, manufacturing and textiles industries in Iran, should wind down those transactions within 90 days after the E.O. was issued. OFAC stresses that new engagements entered into with the specified Iranian sectors on or after January 10 will not be considered wind-down activities. These new engagements may be sanctionable during the wind-down period, even if the new engagements commence prior to the end of the 90-day wind-down period, which expires on April 9.
On January 10, President Trump issued a new Executive Order, “Imposing Sanctions with Respect to Additional Sectors of Iran,” while OFAC took action by designating eight Iranian officials, 17 Iranian entities, three China-and-Seychelles-based entities, and a vessel in response to recent military action taken by Iran against U.S. military interests. Specifically, E.O. 13902 imposes penalties on foreign financial institutions that knowingly do business with or on behalf of the designated Iranian entities and individuals. According to the E.O., the purpose of the sanctions is to deny revenue to the government of Iran that may be used to further the development of nuclear weapons.
On December 19, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued amended Iran General License (No. K-1), which permits transactions “ordinarily incident and necessary to the maintenance or wind down of transactions” involving certain shipping entities blocked by Executive Order 13846. In conjunction with the amendment, OFAC amended three Iran-related FAQs (FAQ 804, 806, and 807), which discuss whether sanctions on certain shipping tankers apply to their corporate parent and affiliates, the types of activities considered “maintenance” in General License K-1, and the processing of transactions by U.S. financial institutions involving a specific shipping tanker under General License K-1.
On December 12, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Finding of Violation to a now dissolved Texas-based aircraft maintenance company for alleged violations of the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR). According to OFAC, in 2016, the company negotiated and entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for aircraft maintenance with an Iranian commercial airline that was on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) for providing financial, material, and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Although the company was aware that the airline was on the SDN list, and in fact, had made the MOU contingent upon the airline being removed from the list, they incorrectly believed that Iran General License I (GL I) allowed them to negotiate and enter into the contingent contract. The GL I, however, excluded transactions and dealings with anyone, including the airline, whose property is blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13224. In deciding to issue a Finding of Violation, OFAC considered as mitigating factors that the company had not been issued a penalty or a Finding of Violation in at least five years prior to the alleged violations and that the company was a small company with financial problems that led to its bankruptcy and dissolution. OFAC also considered a number of aggravating factors including that the airline was a “high-profile entity identified on the SDN List,” that the company knew that the airline was on the SDN list, and that the company “engaged in a reckless violation of the law” by negotiating and entering an MOU with the airline. According to OFAC, had it not dissolved, the company would have been subject to “a strong civil monetary penalty.”
On November 27, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) updated two existing Iran-related FAQs: FAQ 303, which discusses insurance, reinsurance, and underwriting activities; and FAQ 804, which discusses whether sanctions on certain shipping tankers apply to their corporate parent and affiliates. Additionally, OFAC issued three new Iran-related FAQs (FAQ 805-807) covering the sanctions exposure of non-U.S. persons, the types of activities considered “maintenance” in General License K, and the processing of transactions involving a specific shipping tanker under General License K.
On October 30, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the seven member nations of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) have jointly designated 25 targets for allegedly supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hizballah, as part of Treasury’s efforts to “bolster the fight against terrorist financing.” The targets include 21 entities that comprise a “vast network of businesses providing financial support to the Basij Resistance Force” through the use of shell companies and other measures within Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, along with four Hizballah-affiliated individuals allegedly involved in related financial activities in Iraq. The seven members—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.—coordinate disruptive actions, share financial intelligence information, and enhance member state capacity in order to target activities posing national security threats to TFTC members, including the disruption of financial networks used to fund terrorism.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on actions involving Iran and Hizballah.
On October 15, the DOJ announced charges against a Turkish bank alleging fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s alleged participation in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. According to the indictment, the bank used money service businesses and front companies to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and “avoid prohibitions against Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system.” The bank allegedly lied to U.S. regulators and foreign banks about its participation in the fraudulent transactions. The concealed funds, the DOJ claimed, “were used to make international payments on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian banks, including transfers in U.S. dollars that passed through the U.S. financial system in violation of U.S. sanctions laws.” Additionally, the DOJ asserted that the conduct—which allowed Iran access to “billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue”—was protected by high ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey, some of whom received millions of dollars in bribes to promote and protect the scheme from U.S. scrutiny.
On September 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against Iran’s central bank, the country’s national development fund, and an Iran-based company for providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, its Qods Force (IRGC-QF), and Hizballah, the regime’s terrorist proxy. OFAC designated the bank for purportedly providing billions of dollars to these entities, and alleged that the national development fund “has been a major source of foreign currency and funding” for both the IRGC-QF and Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL). Sanctions were brought against the Iran-based company for concealing financial transfers for MODAFL’s military purchases, including those originating from the national development fund. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these entities 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 financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated entities, they may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.
On September 16, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed an action alleging 10 financial institutions (defendants) conspired to evade U.S. sanctions on financial and business dealings with Iran, resulting in the direct and indirect material support for terrorism. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs—a group of veterans who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2011 and were injured or killed by terrorist attacks during that time—alleged that the defendants conspired with the Government of Iran, and multiple state-affiliated and private Iranian entities that work with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s (IRGC) and Hezbollah’s terrorist activities, to evade U.S. sanctions and conduct illicit trade-finance transactions, which helped to facilitate Iran’s provision of material support to terrorist activities. The defendants moved to dismiss the action and, in July 2018, a magistrate judge issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending that the motions be denied in their entirety.
On review, the district court declined to adopt the R&R and granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The court noted that the plaintiffs’ allegations indicate that Iran conspired to provide material support to the terrorist organizations, but failed to establish that the defendants “agreed to provide illegal financial services to Iranian financial and commercial entities . . . with the intent that those services would ultimately benefit a terrorist organization.” Moreover, the court reasoned that “it is up to Congress, and not the judiciary, to authorize terrorism victims to recover damages for their injuries from financial institutions that conspire with state sponsors of terrorism like Iran to evade U.S. sanctions under circumstances such as those presented in this case.”
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