Archive for the ‘Criminal Penalties’ Category


Apr

25

Woman Indicted for Failure to File Electronic Export Information Forms


Posted by at 11:19 am on April 25, 2016
Category: BISChinaCriminal Penalties

Harbin Engineering University via http://english.hrbeu.edu.cn/skin/default/images/officer_r8_c61.jpg [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Harbin Engineering
University


Amin Yu bought things for Harbin Engineering University (“HEU”) in China — all EAR99 items, none of which required an export license. She listed an incorrect value for the items on documents that she gave to UPS, FedEx and various freight forwarders. As a result, none of them filed Export Electronic Information forms for the shipments. The federal government has now indicted Yu, accusing her of being a Chinese spy and indicting her for failure to file the required EEIs. This is the first and only indictment of anyone for failing to file EEIs for EAR99 items. It’s rather like accusing someone who put the wrong postage on a letter with being a terrorist.

The first count of the indictment (in case newspaper crime reporters get bored and don’t read the whole thing) is for failure to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”). This is catnip for reporters who quiver with excitement each and every time they can give their editors a story with the word “spy” in it. Even the once venerable Newsweek fell for this ploy, referring to Yu in its headline as a “Chinese Spy.”

These FARA counts are also, as we’ve seen before, a sure sign that the government has a lousy case that it can only win with a generous dollop of press-induced hysteria about the defendant.

The problem with these bogus FARA “spy” counts is that it is not illegal to buy stuff for foreign governments (or foreign government-run universities as was the case here.) A significant exclusion is set forth in section 3(d) of the act for certain “non-political” activities, including “engaging … in private and nonpolitical activities in furtherance of the bona fide trade or commerce of such foreign principal.” In other words, acting as a commercial agent for foreign governments, foreign companies and foreign individuals by buying stuff for them does not make the person engaged in that activity a foreign agent required to register under the act. (The requirement that the trade be bona fide is to prevent the foreign principal from trying to spread influence in the United States by having its agents buy items that it doesn’t need.) And when you read the indictment that is all that Yu did: she bought things for HEU.

As to the EEI-related counts, things are not much better with the government’s case. It appears that in some instances the EEIs weren’t filed because the amounts declared for the exported goods were too low. Whether this was anything other than an attempt to reduce Chinese import duties when the items arrived in China is unclear. In some instances, it is not clear at all why the forwarders and shipping companies did not file EEIs because the declared values where above the EEI exemption limit of $2500. The indictment also focuses on an instance where the shipping documents did not use Yu’s full name and another where the address of HEU was missing.

What appears to have gotten the DOJ all worked up here is that the items involved could be used for unmanned submersible vehicles. But so far the federal government has put no controls on these items, which at the moment are mostly being used for oceanography, deep-sea exploration, underwater oil prospecting, and meteorology. If the government doesn’t want the Chinese developing underwater submersibles with U.S. origin goods, it knows how to do it and, for some reason, hasn’t.

Photo Credit: Harbin Engineering University via http://english.hrbeu.edu.cn/skin/default/images/officer_r8_c61.jpg [Fair Use]

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Apr

12

Texas Millionaire’s Release in Iran Prisoner Swap Remains a Mystery


Posted by at 6:21 pm on April 12, 2016
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Smart Power Systems and Bahram Mechanic via http://www.smartpowersystems.com/content/main/corporateinformation.html [Fair Use]An excellent and detailed article in the Houston Press, an alternative weekly news magazine and website, ponders the reason that a Texas millionaire, Bahram Mechanic, was on Iran’s prisoner swap list and received, as part of the prisoner swap negotiated with the nuclear deal, a pre-trial pardon of export charges that had been filed against him. This blog had previously written about the indictment against Mechanic which incorrectly accused him, at least for certain (but not all) of the charged exports, of not having a BIS license that he didn’t need. Nine months later, in January 2015, Mechanic walked out of the federal detention center where he was being held without bond pending trial. Like the other Iranian prisoners swapped in the deal, none of whom actually returned to Iran, Mechanic re-ensconced himself in a $2 million condo atop the forty story Four Leaf Towers in Houston and had the crab dinner he complained he had been craving ever since he became the involuntary guest of federal taxpayers.

The author of the article candidly admits that he has no idea why the Iranians were interested in freeing Mechanic. But he does supply a number of curious details about the case. First, Mechanic was denied bail, at least in part, because they found 156 grams of cocaine, 4 kilos of an opium derivative, multiple passports and $100,000 in cash in multiple currencies in a safe in his home. The drug possession charges were later dropped without explanation.

Second, it appears that his defense was going to be a version of the dog that didn’t bark in the night. Apparently, back in 1997, Mechanic had a lawyer at a small trade firm in Houston send a letter asking the Office of Foreign Assets Control if his ownership interest in, and business relationship with, Faratel, a company in Iran, posed any problems. (Ya think?) Not hearing anything (ever) back from OFAC, Mechanic and his lawyers saw this as a green light to continuing shipping things to Faratel in Iran. This is a bit odd since he was indicted at about the same time as the letter to OFAC for transshipping items through Taiwan to Faratel in Iran. Although those criminal charges were dropped, he ultimately paid OFAC a $100,000 fine to settle civil penalty charges OFAC brought arising out of those shipments.

Mechanic’s lawyer suggested to the author of the Houston Press article that the government’s case was meritless, using a familiar term sometimes used to describe bovine excrement. He speculates that the government fabricated the case against Mechanic as “trade bait” for the Iranians. At other times in the article, Mechanic’s lawyer somewhat inconsistently concedes that Mechanic may have done the things he was accused of doing but didn’t know that it was wrong, apparently because the 1997 letter never got an answer (other than, of course, the $100,000 fine).

None of this does anything but deepen the mystery as to why anyone in Tehran would give two cents, much less three American prisoners, to spring Mechanic from jail so he could return to his luxury condo in Houston and catch up on all the crab dinners he missed while in jail.

Photo Credit: Smart Power Systems and Bahram Mechanic via Smart Power Systems [Fair Use];

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Apr

7

Save the Fokkers


Posted by at 11:40 pm on April 7, 2016
Category: Burma SanctionsCriminal PenaltiesEconomic SanctionsGeneralIran SanctionsSudan

Fokker Services Building in Hoofddorp via http://www.fokker.com/sites/default/files/styles/carousel_innovations/public/media/Images/Services/Contact_Fokker_Services_Location_Hoofddorp_637x286.jpg?itok=NYP0cc2k [Fair Use]

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit just reversed the decision of a lower federal district court which tossed out the deferred prosecution agreement between the Department of Justice and Fokker Services B.V.  Fokker had admitted, in a voluntary disclosure to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), that  it had obtained U.S. origin aircraft parts which it then re-exported to Iran, Sudan and Burma without the required licenses. This blog has previously criticized both the highly unusual decision of the DoJ to turn a voluntary disclosure to OFAC into a criminal prosecution and the district court’s decision to toss aside the DPA as too lenient, apparently in the belief that Iran was somehow involved in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Court of Appeals decision, which restores the DPA and reverses the lower court, is based simply on its interpretation of the Speedy Trial Act. Because a DPA starts the Speedy Trial Act’s seventy-day clock running, the Act provides, in 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(2), that a DPA can turn off this clock “with the approval of the court.” Otherwise, of course, the defendant could escape prosecution after seventy days, despite provisions of the DPA that prosecution would be avoided only upon good behavior by the defendant during a longer period, typically one to three years.

The Court of Appeals held that this requirement of approval did not give the district court the authority to question the leniency of the DPA, the charges brought by the government or the parties prosecuted under those charges. Rather the court reviewing a DPA is limited to determining if the DPA is

geared to enabling the defendant to demonstrate compliance with the law, and is not instead a pretext intended merely to evade the Speedy Trial Act’s time constraint.

The only other authority of the lower court, according to the Court of Appeals, would be to reject “illegal or unethical provisions” of the DPA, noting that the District Court had not argued that anything in the DPA was either illegal or unethical.

The Court of Appeals opinion is, thus, good news and bad news. The bad news is that a court can’t refuse to approve a DPA on the grounds that it was unfair for the government to turn a voluntary disclosure to an administrative agency into a criminal prosecution. The good news is that if the exporter does agree to a DPA, it can have a high degree of certainty that the district court cannot condition approval of the DPA on the insertion of more onerous provisions.

Photo Credit: Fokker Services Building in Hoofddorp via Fokker http://bit.ly/23bmktC [Fair Use] [cropped]

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)

Apr

5

Slow Boat From Batam


Posted by at 11:17 pm on April 5, 2016
Category: BISCriminal PenaltiesExtraditionIran Sanctions

  1. User:Abelard Fuah, via Wikimedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Batam_City_Mix.jpg#/media/File:Batam_City_Mix.jpg licensed under CC BY-SA-3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/][cropped]On Monday, according to a DOJ press release published on the Bureau of Industry and Security website, the United States finally extradited Steve Lim, a Singaporean national who had been languishing in a jail in Batam, Indonesia. As we reported here and as noted in the DOJ press release, Lim was under indictment in the United States for shipping radio modules from the United States to Iran. In October 2014, Lim had hopped a ferry from Singapore to Batam to attend a trade show and was nabbed at the ferry terminal. An Indonesian judge ultimately permitted, in July 2015, Lim’s extradition notwithstanding the absence of an extradition treaty between Indonesia and the United States

What the DOJ press release fails to mention is that a court in Singapore had refused to extradite Lim in 2011. Singapore, which does have an extradition treaty with the United States, has a dual criminality requirement for extradition. Because the export of the radio modules from Singapore to Iran was not illegal under the law of Singapore, the request by the U.S. for extradition was refused. Lim would still be in Singapore had he not made that trip to Indonesia. What this illustrates is that although U.S. law enforcement authorities claim jurisdiction over foreign nationals who, without ever setting foot in the United States, export items from the U.S., the assertion of this jurisdiction is not without international controversy.

Photo Credit:User:Abelard Fuah, via Wikimedia http://bit.ly/23fG242 licensed under CC BY-SA-3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/][cropped]

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)

Mar

3

“Based on My Experience and Training. . .”


Posted by at 8:09 pm on March 3, 2016
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

All in a Day's Work by Damian Gadal via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/5xQkWj [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Erdal Kuyumcu

Erdal Kuyumcu, the CEO of Global Metallurgy LLC, was indicted this week on charges that he shipped an EAR99 chemical to Iran through a middleman in Turkey. The criminal complaint provides the details of the government’s case, which, charitably speaking, seems weak.

In order to sustain a criminal conviction, it must be demonstrated that Kuyumcu knew that the chemical that he shipped from the United States to Turkey was going to be re-exported to Iran. In support of this, the government cites a number of emails unrelated to the shipments at issue, where the Turkish company and Mr. Kuyumcu had an email exchange about a trip the head of the Turkish company referred to as “flying out to the neighbor’s” and which Mr. Kuyumcu replied “Good luck at the neighbor’s.” The FBI agent signing the criminal complaint said that based on his “training” and “experience,” this was a coded reference to Iran and this coded language is proof that Kuyumcu was aware that the chemical he later shipped to Turkey was going to be re-exported to Iran. It’s hard to see the connection here. And it’s not hard to imagine that there are a number of innocent reasons why foreigners might not want to have all their email sniffed by the NSA after the NSA’s email sweeps see the word Iran.

There are two emails connected to the shipments at issue that the government cites, but these are not conclusive either. In both emails, Mr. Kuyumcu, in response to an inquiry from the U.S. supplier of the EAR99 chemical for the name of the end user, asks the Turkish company to provide the name of a “friendly” company in Turkey with a website and that uses the chemical. The FBI agent believes this is a slam dunk:

Based on my training and experience, and on the foregoing emails between KUYUMCU and Co-Conspirator #1, where KUYUMCU asks for the name of “a friend company with a website … that uses this material,” and specifically directs Co-Conspirator #1 to the “email below” from the Ohio Company asking the name of the end-user company, KUYUMCU was asking Co-Conspirator #1 to fabricate end-user information using the name of a “friend[ly]” company whose name could be provided to the Ohio Company [the supplier] in an effort to conceal that the true end user of the Cobalt Compound was Iranian Company #!.

That might be one explanation, but there is certainly an equally reasonable one, particularly for anyone with experience and training not from Quantico but from actual business. Middlemen never like to give the name of end users to their suppliers. They regularly refuse to provide the information or provide incorrect information, not because they’re busy selling stuff to Iran, but because they don’t want their supplier to cut them out and start dealing with the end user directly.

The FBI affidavit is full of questionable appeals as above to his “training and experience,” but there is one particularly amusing reference to his training and experience. Some time after the shipment in question, and without reference to it, Mr. Kuyumcu sent an email that said in part: “H]ave you heard anything from the neighbor? :)” The FBI Agent had this to say about the email:

Based on my training and experience, the colon followed by a close parenthesis in the above quote represents a smiley face.

Seriously? At Quantico they have a class to teach FBI Agents that a colon followed by a close parenthesis represents a smiley face? Do they teach them as well that a colon followed by a zero represents a shocked face? And that *<|:‑) is Santa Claus? I know a bunch of these, so can I get paid to teach that class? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Outside of this unintentionally clueless hilarity from the FBI agent, this is really a classic demonstration that when he throws around throughout the complaint references to his “training and experience,” he might be basing his conclusions on something far less compelling than his actual training or experience despite what he claims.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)