Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category


Nov

4

OFAC to Foreign Airlines: Iran Sanctions Trump Your Safety


Posted by at 8:12 pm on November 4, 2014
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Air France 747-428 by Aero Icarus [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/aero_icarus/5939459613Today the Office of Foreign Assets Control cryptically announced a change in its FAQs relating to foreign aircraft that overfly or make emergency landings in Iran. The agency merely stated that it had revised FAQ 417 without describing the difference between the old and new FAQ or why the change was made. Of course, you might assume that OFAC wanted to make it clear that if your plane was about to fall out of the sky it was okay to make an unscheduled landing in Iran — passenger safety, and all that. But you would be wrong.

The old FAQ, which you can find here, said that non-U.S. airlines could overfly Iran and make emergency landings there as long as no payments were made to or through any of the specifically designated banks in Iran (like Bank Melli) or any entities on the SDN list (other than, of course, agencies and instrumentalities of the Iranian government). The new FAQ, however, adds a new wrinkle: the payments now cannot involve the U.S. financial system if a foreign carrier is involved; the U.S. financial system may only be used for U.S. carriers, which, under 31 C.F.R. § 560.522, are permitted  to overfly and make emergency landings in Iran.

This policy change comes on the heels of news reports (like this one and this one) that foreign carrier overflights over Iran have recently increased. Why? Because no one wants to get blown out of the sky while flying over Iraq or Ukraine. Both Air France and Virgin Atlantic have suspended flights over Iraq.

Of course, you may say, certainly foreign carriers can find non-U.S. financial institutions to handle the payments to Iran. That, of course, may be the case, although given all the recent huge fine on foreign banks for Iran transactions, many of these banks may simply be unwilling to run the risk of further penalties given the small amounts they are likely to make handling these payments.

 

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Oct

20

Did Ron Jeremy Save This Export Defendant From Jail?


Posted by at 6:31 pm on October 20, 2014
Category: BISCriminal PenaltiesIran Sanctions

Touraj Ghavidel and Ron Jeremy via Ghavidel's Twitter Feed https://twitter.com/MrTouraj [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Touraj Ghavidel and Ron
Jeremy


The Bureau of Industry and Security just released settlement documents resolving allegations that Borna Faizy, Touraj Ghavidel and Signal Microsystems, Inc., illegally exported computer equipment from the United States to Iran. According to the BIS charges, Faizy, Ghavidel and Signal Microsystems transshipped the items through Dubai (where else?), used coded language in emails with Iranian customers to hide their customer’s identities and locations, and falsely stated on their Electronic Export Information filings that the ultimate end users were in Dubai. As a result, over at least 2 years, more than $1 million in computer equipment was shipped by the three to Iran. Under the settlement agreement, no fine is being imposed; rather the three exporters have agreed to a ten-year denial order.

The settlement agreement comes on the heels of a plea agreement entered by Faizy and Ghavidel where they plead to making false statements to federal agents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Under the plea, the government and the defendants agree that a fine and one year probation would be an adequate sentence. The basis for the charge under 18 U.S.C. § 1001 is that Faizy and Ghavidel, when questioned by federal investigators, swore up and down that they were absolutely not doing any business with Iran and would never ever even think of doing so, cross their hearts and hope to, etc., etc.

It is hard to tell why such a favorable plea deal was reached here. The false EEIs and the coded emails certainly suggest that the defendants knew that they were breaking the law. And they also managed to ship a boat load, almost literally, of computers to Iran. All I can figure is that the prosecutors saw the picture of Ghavidel with Ron Jeremy, which Ghavidel put on his own Twitter feed, and decided that Ghavidel was too cool to go to jail.

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Oct

2

Newest Sanctions Crime: Buying a Condo while Iranian-American


Posted by at 11:12 pm on October 2, 2014
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

By Don-vip (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AU.S_Treasury_Department_in_Washington%2C_D.C..jpgOne of the possibly unintended consequences of the heavy fines imposed on banks by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) for violations of the vaguely and confusingly written Iran sanctions regulations is that banks overreact, exhibiting a Pavlovian response to anything with the word Iran involved and blindly blocking everything in sight. As a result, Iranian-Americans often have a difficult and unpredictable relationship with their own banks here in the United States. As recently reported by the Arizona Republic, Neda Tavassoli, an Iranian-American, had difficulty closing her purchase of a condominium when one of the banks involved needlessly blocked the account holding her funds for the down payment.

The story begins, improbably enough, when her ex-husband, who is also a U.S. citizen, was visiting his family in Iran and checked their joint account from a computer in Iran. The bank then froze that account. Subsequently the bank even froze an unrelated escrow account to which Ms. Tavassoli’s parents, also U.S. citizens, wired the down payment for the condo in issue. Neither Ms. Tavassoli, her ex-husband,  her parents nor the U.S. bank from which the parents wired the funds are on the SDN list, so there is no conceivable reason for these accounts to be blocked. None of these parties are even in Iran so there was not even a reason to reject the wire transfer to the escrow account, much less to block it.

Most importantly, checking the account from Iran, which got the whole business started, would not serve as a basis for blocking the account. Whether the bank broke any rules by providing the information back to Iran in response to the account query depends on whether that communication was “incident to the exchange of personal communications over the Internet” and therefore permitted by section 560.540 of the Iran regulations. But even if the exception in section 560.540 for Internet communications does not apply, the proper response by the bank was simply not to respond to the request, not to block the account.

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Sep

22

Texas Man Charged with Smuggling for Forwarding One Email


Posted by at 10:10 pm on September 22, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

BlackBerry email on the BB 8330 by Ian Lamont(Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilamont/4329363938/A criminal information was filed last week against Patrick Jean Zuber, a U.S permanent resident and former Weatherford International Vice-President, charging him with conspiracy to violate the anti-smuggling statute, 18 U.S.C. § 554. How did he get into such trouble? Actually, he didn’t do anything more than push the forward button to send an email from a company in Thailand seeking to purchase equipment for an oil project in Iran. That’s right: he is being charged not with sending any equipment to Iran; he is being charged with sending an email forwarding that inquiry from the potential customer in Thailand.  Zuber forwarded that inquiry to a Canadian employee of Weatherford.  This cold-blooded and heinous act of clicking “forward”  was deemed to be facilitation of an illegal export to Iran. The criminal information is silent as to whether any export actually occurred

Whether the Canadian to whom the email was sent was employed by a U.S. or foreign subsidiary of Weatherford is not made clear by the criminal information. If it was a foreign subsidiary, then at the time Zuber forwarded the email, it would have been perfectly legal, under section 560.205 of OFAC’s Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, for the Canadian citizen at a foreign company to export EAR99 items to Iran even if they were originally manufactured in the United States. In that case, showing criminal intent by Zuber, who may well have thought that Canada could legally fulfill the order he forwarded, is going to be extremely difficult.

Of course, there may be other facts not mentioned in the criminal information which justify this prosecution. But if the basic crime here is forwarding an email to someone that Zuber thought could legally fulfill the order, this really seems more suited for a civil, rather than a criminal, penalty. After all, section 560.205 of OFAC’s requlations does prohibit a U.S. person from facilitating a transaction by a foreign person that would be illegal if done by a U.S. person and so OFAC would clearly have the authority to fine Mr. Zuber for pushing the forward button.

Photo Credit: In 30 Minute Guides

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Sep

12

Maybe Their Phones Aren’t Working


Posted by at 3:27 pm on September 12, 2014
Category: Iran SanctionsOFACSudanSyria

By CFTC via https://www.flickr.com/photos/cftc/4406624868/sizes/z/ [Public Domain]Both the Commodity Futures Trading  Commission and the Office of Foreign Assets Control announced settlement agreements under which they imposed fines of $150,000 and $200,000 respectively on the oddly named Zulutrade, an online foreign exchange broker.  Zulutrade has nothing to do with Africa but is located in Pireaus, Greece, incorporated in Delaware and registered with the CFTC (which is how OFAC and CFTC got their hooks into a company located in Greece). The OFAC announcement is here and the CFTC announcement is here.

The reason for the fines is that Zulutrade allegedly maintained accounts for over 400 persons in Iran, Sudan, and Syria. On this much, the CFTC and OFAC agree. Beyond that the two agencies have different stories about how the violations, which were not voluntarily disclosed by Zulutrade, occurred. OFAC’s explanation is simply that Zulutrade had no idea it needed to comply with U.S. sanctions, perhaps not surprising in the case of a company sitting in Greece even if incorporated in Delaware.

Zulutrade failed to screen or otherwise monitor its customer base for OFAC compliance purposes at the time of the apparent violations. This failure was the result of a lack of awareness regarding U.S. sanctions regulations.

But to listen to CFTC the problem was that Zulutrade was aware of its responsibilities, tried to comply with them and botched it.  The Zulutrade compliance program, according to CFTC, provided that Zulutrade

may delegate implementation to third party service providers or agents. The procedure also says that if implementation is delegated, “Zulutrade shall have a written agreement with the other entity outlining the other entity’s responsibilities, and shall actively monitor the delegation to assure that the procedures are being conducted in an effective manner.” However, Respondent did not follow its procedure for OF AC screening. Specifically, Respondent relied entirely upon third parties to implement its procedures but Respondent did not have written agreements with all such third parties and OF AC screening was not performed.

I do not see any way to read these two narratives as consistent. OFAC says Zulutrade had no idea it needed to comply, but CFTC says that Zulutrade knew it need to comply but delegated the responsibility to third parties, although not in the fashion required by its compliance program and, apparently, without checking to see if the third parties were in fact screening. It’s hard to explain these two different accounts of what happened other than by the fact that OFAC and CFTC are in different parts of Washington and their telephones must not be working.

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