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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 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.
President Trump authorizes new sanctions on Russian sovereign debt; OFAC imposes prohibition on certain U.S. bank loans
On August 1, President Trump issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13883 titled “Administration of Proliferation Sanctions and Amendment of Executive Order 12851,” which authorizes sanctions on new issuances of Russian sovereign debt and directs the U.S. government to attempt to cut off international financing and forbids U.S. bank loans to governments subject to U.S. sanctions for using chemical or nuclear weapons. Among other things, E.O. 13883 allows the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, the authorization to (i) “oppose. . .the extension of any loan or financial or technical assistance to [a sanctioned] country by international financial institutions”; and (ii) “prohibit any U.S. bank from making any loan or providing any credit to the government of [a sanctioned] country, except for loans or credits for the purpose of purchasing food or other agricultural commodities or products.”
Following the issuance of E.O. 13883, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions on August 3 against the Russian Federation, which will “impos[e] a prohibition related to certain U.S. bank loans and will oppose multilateral development bank assistance to the Russian Federation.” According to OFAC, the sanctions are issued in response to Russia’s use of the “Novichok” nerve agent in the U.K. in March 2018. In order to implement the sanctions related to U.S. bank loans, OFAC issued the CBW Act Directive on August 2—scheduled to take effect August 26 following a required Congressional notification period—which “prohibits U.S. banks from participating in the primary market for non-ruble denominated bonds issued by the Russian sovereign and also prohibits U.S. banks from lending non-ruble denominated funds to the Russian sovereign.” OFAC also released a set of FAQs to provide guidance on the CBW Act Directive.
On June 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction a Russian financial entity, pursuant to Executive Order 13382, for allegedly “having provided, or attempted to provide, financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services” on behalf of an entity that is owned and controlled by North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank. According to OFAC, since at least 2017 and continuing through 2018, the Russian entity has provided multiple accounts to the North Korean entity, which has “enabled North Korea to circumvent U.S. and UN sanctions to gain access to the global financial system in order to generate revenue for the Kim regime’s nuclear program.” Pursuant to OFAC’s sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities.
On March 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction six Russian individuals and eight entities, pursuant to Executive Order 13661, for “playing a role in Russia’s unjustified attacks on Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait, the purported annexation of Crimea, and backing of illegitimate separatist government elections in eastern Ukraine.” The action complements sanctions imposed the same day by the European Union and Canada as part of a coordinated effort “to counter Russia’s continued destabilizing behavior and malign activities.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals and entities, as well as any entities owned 50 percent or more by them, are blocked and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes cover of actions related to Russia and Ukraine.
On January 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) lifted sanctions on three companies identified last April in connection with sanctions imposed against a Russian oligarch. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here on the full list of sanctioned Russian oligarchs and government officials.) Under the terms of removal from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), the companies reduced the sanctioned Russian oligarch’s “direct and indirect shareholding stake in these companies and severed his control.” The majority of directors on the companies’ boards going forward will be independent directors and include U.S. and European persons with no ties to identified persons on the SDN List. OFAC reports that the companies “have also agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations by undertaking extensive, ongoing auditing, certification, and reporting requirements.” The sanctions imposed against the Russian oligarch remain in place.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine/Russian sanctions.
On November 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against four Hizballah-affiliated individuals for their alleged leadership roles in the group’s terrorist financial activities in Iraq, including providing support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). According to OFAC, the sanctions were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which “targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.” OFAC’s designations follow the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018—signed into law October 25—along with the reimposition of Iran-related sanctions on November 5 (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and reinforces U.S. efforts to “protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.” Furthermore, OFAC states that the four Specially Designated Global Terrorists are also subject to secondary sanctions under the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, and allows OFAC to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the [U.S.] of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on sanctions involving Hizballah networks.
On November 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction an additional three individuals and nine entities, pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) and Executive Orders (E.O.) 13685 and 13661, for supporting Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine and its continued “malign activity and destabilizing behavior.” According to OFAC, two of the individuals and one of the entities placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) allegedly engaged in serious human rights abuses in “territories forcibly occupied or otherwise controlled by Russia” under the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, as amended by CAATSA Section 228. Additionally, pursuant to E.O. 13685, OFAC imposed sanctions on eight entities and one individual allegedly responsible for helping Russia advance its interests by operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine. OFAC further noted that one of the eight entities is also designated for being owned or controlled by, directly or indirectly, a sanctioned Russian bank and a Russian national whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13661. As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Russia sanctions.
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