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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 January 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1,125,000 civil settlement with a Marshall Islands shipping company (respondent) with headquarters in the U.S. for 36 apparent violations of the Burmese Sanctions Regulations (BSR). According to OFAC, between 2011 and 2014, the respondent had dealings in the property of a Burma-related company (company) that is included on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN List), and provided shipping services that benefited the designated company, which were apparent violations of the BSR.
According to the settlement agreement, OFAC considered various aggravating factors in reaching the settlement amount, including that (i) the apparent violations “conferred significant economic benefits to Burma’s military regime”; (ii) the respondent “demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by ignoring” the license denial letters it received from OFAC; (iii) the respondent’s former president knew about and participated in the transactions that comprise the apparent violations; and (iv) the respondent is a “commercially sophisticated shipping company” that is familiar with international shipping transactions. OFAC determined that the apparent violations represent an egregious case.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the respondent is under new management, which self-disclosed the apparent violations and cooperated with the investigation; (ii) OFAC has not issued a violation against the respondent in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions at issue; and (iii) the respondent undertook extensive remedial measures in response to the alleged violations, including implementing a formal compliance program.
On January 21, U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement with a New York-based lobbying firm for alleged violations of the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR). According to OFAC, between August 2017 and November 2017, the firm allegedly dealt in the property or interests in property of a Somalian organization designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT), when it signed a contract with the organization and received payment for its lobbying services that were “outside the scope of generally authorized activities under the GTSR, including the GTSR general license for legal services.” In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including the fact that the firm voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC, and the firm implemented remedial measures, including adopting new screening procedures before entering into contracts with potential clients. OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the firm’s executives had actual knowledge of the organization’s SDGT status and actively participated in signing the contract.
On January 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it took action against four petroleum products companies (network) designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13846 for making payments to “an entity instrumental in Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical industries, which helps to finance Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its terrorist proxies.” The Iranian entity is on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons and its property is blocked in conformance with E.O. 13599. According to OFAC, the network transferred payments to the Iranian entity for petroleum exports and “worked to conceal the Iranian origin of these products.” Among other things, these sanctions prohibit foreign financial institutions from “knowingly facilitat[ing] transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to,” the designated petroleum products broker. See the new Iran-related designations here.
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 14, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on a North Korean trading corporation and a China-based North Korean lodging facility for facilitating North Korea’s practice of sending laborers abroad. According to OFAC, North Korea’s continued practice of exporting North Koreans as illicit laborers is an ongoing attempt to undermine and evade United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The designated companies’ exportation of workers on behalf of the country, OFAC stated, has generated revenue for the North Korean government or the Workers’ Party of Korea. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets 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 individuals, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.
On January 10, the Trump administration issued new sanctions intended to deny the Iranian government revenues from the export of key economic products that may be used to fund its nuclear program. Specifically, newly-issued Executive Order 13902 authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, to impose asset blocking sanctions on any person determined to operate in the construction, mining, manufacturing or textile sectors of the Iranian economy, or any additional sector as they may jointly determine. Additionally, EO 13902 authorizes the imposition of certain sanctions on any person determined to have engaged in, or any foreign financial institution determined to have knowingly facilitated, a significant transaction involving one of the aforementioned sectors of the Iranian economy.
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.
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Ongoing challenges of TRID compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Live: Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Resisting temptation in a crisis: How to make sure ethics and compliance don't get diluted under financial strain" at a New York City Bar Association webcast
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "BSA for BSA seasoned officers" at an NAFCU webinar
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "LIBOR transition: Preparations for legal professionals" at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss "Navigating workplace culture in 2020" at the DC Bar Conference