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OFAC expands Russian sanctions
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently announced several actions targeting Russia’s attempts to circumvent or evade sanctions and implemented other economic measures to degrade the country’s capacity to wage its war against Ukraine. In coordination with the G7 and other international partners, OFAC implemented several new commitments to cut Russia off from revenue streams and key inputs needed to equip its military. The sanctions target 22 individuals and 104 entities with touchpoints in more than 20 countries or jurisdictions with involvement in the technology, energy, and financial services sectors. OFAC also expanded sanctions authorities to target new sectors of Russia’s economy and sever the country’s access to several new categories of services. Additional sanctions-related measures include the designation or identification as blocked property of nearly 200 individuals, entities, vessels, and aircraft by the State Department. Concurrently, the Commerce Department significantly expanded the territorial reach and categories covered by its export controls and added 71 entities to its Entity List to prevent Russia from accessing goods needed for its war.
OFAC noted that it also expanded its Russia-related sanctions authorities through the issuance of a determination that identifies the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, and transportation sectors of the Russian economy pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 14024. The determination complements existing sanctions authorities and allows for additional economic costs to be imposed on Russia and for sanctions to be imposed on any person determined to operate of have operated in any of the sectors. OFAC issued a second determination pursuant to E.O. 14071 (effective June 18) to prohibit the “exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a United States person, wherever located, of architecture services or engineering services to any person located in the Russian Federation.” (See new OFAC FAQs and general licenses here.)
Additionally, OFAC amended Directive 4 under E.O. 14024 “to require U.S. persons to report to OFAC any property in their possession or control in which the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation has an interest.”
Earlier in the month, OFAC also announced sanctions against a Russian ransomware actor for being complicit in cyberattacks against U.S. law enforcement, businesses, and critical infrastructure. OFAC commented that analysis conducted by FinCEN found that “75 percent of ransomware-related incidents reported between July and December 2021 were linked to Russia, its proxies, or persons acting on its behalf.”
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” OFAC’s announcement further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with designated persons unless exempt or otherwise authorized by a general or specific license.
FinCEN, Commerce urge monitoring of attempts to evade Russian export controls
On May 19, FinCEN and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a supplemental joint alert urging continued vigilance for potential Russian export control evasion attempts. The alert reinforces ongoing initiatives to further constrain and prevent Russia from accessing critical technology and goods to support its war-making efforts against Ukraine. It follows a joint alert issued last June which urged financial institutions to take a “risk-based approach” for identifying potentially suspicious activity, such as end-use certificates, export documents, or letters of credit-based trade financing. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The supplemental alert provides information on new export control restrictions implemented since the last joint alert was issued, including evasion typologies, new high priority Harmonized System codes to inform U.S. financial institutions’ customer due diligence, and additional transactional and behavioral red flags to help identify suspicious transactions relating to possible export control evasion.
Multinational tech company to pay $3.3 million for OFAC and BIS violations
On April 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in consultation with the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), announced a $3.3 million settlement with a multinational technology company to resolve potential civil liabilities stemming from the exportation of services or software from the United States to sanctioned jurisdictions and to Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) or blocked persons. The settlement comprised an agreement with OFAC to pay a civil penalty of $2,980,264.86 and an administrative penalty of $624,013 with BIS. In light of the related OFAC action, the company was given a $276,382 credit by BIS contingent upon the company fulfilling its requirements under the OFAC settlement agreement, resulting in a combined overall penalty amount of $3,327,896.86.
According to OFAC’s web notice, the conduct underlying the administrative penalty imposed by BIS stemmed from certain conduct involving the company’s Russian subsidiary. The conduct underlying the settlement with OFAC took place between July 2012 and April 2019, when the company and certain subsidiaries allegedly “sold software licenses, activated software licenses, and/or provided related services from servers and systems located in the United States and Ireland to SDNs, blocked persons, and other end users located in Cuba, Iran, Syria, Russia, and the Crimea region of Ukraine.” The total value of the 1,339 apparent violations was more than $12 million. OFAC alleged that the causes of these apparent violations stemmed from a lack of complete or accurate information on end customers for the company’s products, and that during the relevant time period, there were shortcomings in the company’s restricted-party screening controls. Among other things, OFAC alleged that the company’s screening architecture did not aggregate identifying information across its various databases to identify SDNs or blocked persons, failed to screen and evaluate pre-existing customers in a timely fashion, and missed common variations of restricted party names.
In arriving at the $2,980,265.86 settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) evidence did not show that persons located in U.S. offices or management were aware of the alleged activity at the time (the apparent violations were revealed during a self-initiated look back); (ii) upon identifying the apparent violations, the company self-disclosed the matter to OFAC, conducted a retrospective review of thousands of past transactions, cooperated with OFAC throughout the investigation, terminated the accounts of the SDNs or blocked persons, and updated internal procedures to disable access to products or services upon discovery of a sanctioned party; and (iii) the company “undertook significant remedial measures and enhanced its sanctions compliance program through substantial investment and structural changes.” OFAC outlined several compliance considerations for companies conducting business through foreign-based subsidiaries, distributors, and resellers, and reminded businesses that OFAC’s SDN List is dynamic, and that when changes to the list are made, “companies should evaluate their pre-existing trade relationships to avoid dealings with prohibited parties.”
OFAC sanctions arms facilitator for attempted North Korea-Russia deals
On March 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 13551, against a Slovakian national for attempting to facilitate arms deals between Russia and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to aid Russia’s war against Ukraine. “Schemes like the arms deal pursued by this individual show that Putin is turning to suppliers of last resort like Iran and the DPRK,” Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen said. “We remain committed to degrading Russia’s military-industrial capabilities, as well as exposing and countering Russian attempts to evade sanctions and obtain military equipment from the DPRK or any other state that is prepared to support its war in Ukraine.”
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individual that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC, as well as “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons.” Persons that engage in certain transactions with the designated individual may themselves be exposed to sanctions, and “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for the individual designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent or payable-through account sanctions.”
OFAC sanctions Belarusian state-owned enterprises and government officials; amends Belarus Sanctions Regulations
On March 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Belarusian state-owned enterprises and government officials. In so doing, OFAC designated three entities and nine individuals, and identified one presidential aircraft as blocked property, pursuant to Executive Order 14038. The announcement noted that the designations build on previously issued sanctions taken against individuals and entities in Belarus in response to efforts by the Lukashenka regime to suppress democracy and support the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine. “The authoritarian Lukashenka regime relies on state-owned enterprises and key officials to generate substantial revenue that enables oppressive acts against the Belarusian people,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the announcement. Concurrently, the State Department imposed visa restrictions on 14 additional individuals, “including regime officials involved in policies to threaten and intimidate the Belarusian people, for their involvement in undermining democracy under Presidential Proclamation 8015.”
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless authorized by a general or specific OFAC license, or if otherwise exempt.
Additionally, OFAC published a final rule in the Federal Register amending and reissuing the Belarus Sanctions Regulations in their entirety in order to implement the August 2021 Belarus-related Executive Order 14038 (discussed above), “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Belarus,” and incorporate a directive regarding sovereign debt (covered by InfoBytes here and here). The final rule (effective March 27) also updates and adds new definitions, general licenses, and interpretive guidance, among other things.
REPO task force highlights efforts taken against sanctioned Russians
On March 9, the multilateral Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force released a statement on the group’s continued work one year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Treasury Department, along with representatives from Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the European Commission, formed REPO last February to collect and share information among authorities in order “to take concrete actions, including sanctions, asset freezing, and civil and criminal asset seizure, and criminal prosecution.” REPO noted that it has, among other things, (i) blocked or frozen more than $58 billion in sanctioned Russian assets; (ii) taken collective measures to restrict sanctioned Russians’ access to the global financial system and “to investigate and counter Russian sanctions evasions, including attempts to hide or obfuscate assets, illicit cryptocurrency and money laundering schemes, illicit Russian defense procurement, and sanctioned Russians’ use of financial facilitators”; (iii) led international sanctions enforcement efforts; (iv) “[w]orked to update or expand and implement REPO members’ respective legal frameworks that enable the freezing, seizure, forfeiture and/or disposal of assets”; and (v) brought about the first forfeiture of assets of a sanction Russian as part of $5.4 million foreign assistance funds transfer to Ukraine. REPO also issued a joint Global Advisory on Russian Sanctions Evasion, intended to ensure effective sanctions implementation and compliance across member jurisdictions.
Agencies flag intermediaries in evading Russia-related sanctions
On March 2, the DOJ, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a joint compliance note on the use of third-party intermediaries or transshipment points to evade Russian- and Belarussian-related sanctions and export controls. This is the first collective effort taken by the three agencies to inform the international community, the private sector, and the public about efforts taken by malign actors to evade sanctions and export controls in order to provide support for Russia’s war against Ukraine. The compliance note outlines enforcement trends and details attempts made by Russia “to circumvent restrictions, disguise the involvement of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons  or parties on the Entity List in transactions, and obscure the true identities of Russian end users.” The compliance note also provides common red flags indicating whether a third-party intermediary may be engaged in efforts to evade sanctions or export controls, and outlines guidance for companies on maintaining effective, risk-based sanctions and export compliance programs. The agencies highlight other measures taken to constrain Russia, including stringent export controls imposed by BIS to restrict Russia’s access to technologies and other items, sanctions and civil money penalties issued against U.S. persons who violate OFAC sanctions and non-U.S. persons who cause U.S. persons to violate Russian sanctions programs, and the DOJ’s interagency law enforcement task force, Task Force KleptoCapture, which enforces sanctions, export controls, and economic countermeasures imposed by the U.S. and foreign allies and partners.
OFAC issues more Russian sanctions and metals and mining determination
On February 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced significant measures targeting the metals and mining sector of the Russian Federation economy under Executive Order 14024. OFAC also imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and 83 entities to further isolate Russia from the international economy and hinder the country’s access to capital, materials, technology, and military support sustaining its war against Ukraine. (See also OFAC’s fact sheet on sanctions measures taken during the past year.) According to OFAC, the designations target “over 30 third-country individuals and companies connected to Russia’s sanctions evasion efforts, including those related to arms trafficking and illicit finance.” The agency added that “[w]hile Russian banks representing over 80 percent of total Russian banking sector assets are already subject to U.S and international sanctions,” it is now “designating over a dozen financial institutions in Russia, including one of the top-ten largest banks by asset value.” OFAC explained that sanctioned actors are known to turn to smaller banks and wealth-management firms to evade sanctions and access the international financial system. As a result, several wealth management-related entities and associated individuals playing key roles in Russia’s financial services sector have been sanctioned. OFAC also issued a determination (effective February 24), in consultation with the Department of State, allowing for sanctions to be imposed on any individual or entity determined to operate or have operated in the metals and mining sector of the Russian Federation economy.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Further, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons unless authorized by an OFAC-issued general or specific license, or exempt.
The announcement further noted that additional measures have been taken by the Departments of State and Commerce, as well as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, in coordination with allies and G7 partners.
In conjunction with the sanctions, OFAC issued several Russia-related general licenses (see GLs 8F, 13D, 60, and 61), as well as five associated frequently asked questions.
Treasury roundtable examines effectiveness of Russian sanctions and export controls
On February 10, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo convened a roundtable to hear from sanctions and U.S. foreign policy experts on the effectiveness of the unprecedented sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia by a coalition of more than 30 countries. Over the past year, the countries have imposed economic restrictions on Russia with the intention of disrupting Russia’s military supply chains and denying the Russian government funding for its war against Ukraine. Adeyemo discussed progress made on these fronts, and said the strain on Russia’s military can be seen through the government’s attempts to backfill equipment and supplies through third parties in permissive jurisdictions or sanctioned countries. Adeyemo said that in the upcoming weeks and months, Treasury intends to increase “its focus on countering sanctions evasion, including by targeting facilitators and third-country providers that may wittingly or unwittingly help Russia replenish the supplies and material it desperately needs to support its military.”
Treasury official warns Turkish companies on engaging with Russian entities
On February 3, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson, met with the Banks Association of Turkey to discuss international sanctions actions against Russia for its war against Ukraine. Nelson highlighted global illicit finance challenges and stressed the importance of addressing weaknesses within the financial system “to root out financial crime, shine light on the financial shadows that illicit actors exploit, and work toward a more equitable and inclusive global economy.” Nelson commented on potential areas for cooperation between Turkish banks and the broader international finance community, pointing to opportunities for the U.S. and Turkey to work together to mitigate anti-money laundering vulnerabilities in the real estate sector. He also focused on Russia’s “abuse of the global financial system to fund” its war in Ukraine as a main factor in international cooperation for preventing Russia from circumventing sanctions and financial controls “in dozens of countries, including [Turkey].” While Nelson recognized Turkey’s reliance on Russian energy and agriculture, he said that “the marked rise over the past year in non-essential Turkish exports or re-exports to Russia makes the Turkish private sector particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks.” Engaging with sanctioned Russian entities puts Turkish banks and businesses “at risk of sanctions and a potential loss of access to G7 markets and correspondent relationships,” Nelson stressed, calling upon Turkish financial institutions to conduct “enhanced due diligence” in all transactions with Russian entities and individuals—especially within vulnerable sectors.