Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category



Do Due Diligence or Penalties May Be Due

Posted by at 7:20 pm on December 13, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Dentsply Sirona HQ via [Fair Use]Dentsply Sirona agreed to pay the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) $1,220,400 to settle charges in connection with 37 unlicensed exports of dental equipment to Iran. The value of the shipments was not stated but it would have been close to the $1,695,500 that OFAC asserted was the base penalty amount.

The significant issue is that these were not exports of Dentsply Sirona, but rather of two subsidiaries of Dentsply before it merged into Sirona in February 2016. OFAC, and the other export agencies, apply a rule of successor liability and although that rule is more defensible in a merger case, such as this one, it also has been applied in asset deals. And there is some chance in this case that Sirona may not have known about this sanctions liability until OFAC came knocking on the merged company’s doors given that the matter was not voluntarily disclosed by the parties.

According to the charging documents, the Dentsply subs sold dental products from the United States to foreign distributors with knowledge that they would be re-exported to Iran.  In addition, they continued to do so even after receiving confirmation that the items had, in fact, been re-exported to Iran.

One of the aggravating factors cited by OFAC was that personnel of the subsidiaries deliberately concealed from the parent company their knowledge of and participation in sales to distributors that were going to be re-exported to Iran. Although this case, on the one hand, emphasizes the need for due diligence on sanctions violations as part of the mergers and acquisitions process, it also raises the question here as to how due diligence would have caught these violations. The company’s export records would only show exports to the distributors outside Iran and would not reveal the subsequent re-exports to Iran. And the employees who had been busy lying to the parent company could not be expected to come clean about the scheme when presented with a due diligence questionnaire or in a due diligence interview.

That raises a larger question. Why on earth is it an aggravating factor for a parent company (and a successor entity) that it had rogue employees in its subsidiaries? If the parent had a reasonable compliance program, exercised reasonable review over the sub’s hiring practices with background checks, and had no knowledge of the con game going on, why should the penalty be increased? That hardly seems fair. Rather, the appropriate response should be referring the employees’ violation to the DOJ for criminal prosecution of those employees themselves. After all, the aggravating factor here is itself fairly conclusive proof of criminal intent by the sub’s employees.


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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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OFAC Issues Finding of Violation to Foreign Ship Registry for Dealings with Iran

Posted by at 12:38 pm on December 5, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Dominica Seen From the Ship (10) by Gail Frederick [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]Last Tuesday the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued a “finding of violation” (but not a fine) against the Dominica Maritime Registry (“DMR”) for entering into a “Binding Memorandum of Understanding” with the National Iranian Tanker Company (“NITC”), an Iranian government entity listed on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”). Because this was a “contingent contract” in which a blocked party had an interest, DMR’s entry into the contract, according to OFAC, violated section 560.211 of the Iranian Transactions Sanctions Regulations.

The wrinkle in this case is that the Dominica Maritime Registry is located in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, the Government of Domenica having subcontracted its governmental maritime registry functions in 1999 to the Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, which is why, I suppose, OFAC thought it could sink its teeth into DMR.  Subcontracting maritime registry functions is an unusual, although not unprecedented, situation. The Republic of the Marshall Islands has also subcontracted its maritime registry functions to International Registries, Inc. in Reston, Virginia.

OFAC noted a number of aggravating factors in its decision. DMR, according to OFAC, did not voluntarily disclose the violation; it “knew” that NITC was on the SDN list; it failed to exercise a “minimal degree of caution” in signing the contract with NITC; and DMR executives “actively participated” in negotiating and executing the contract. As mitigating factors OFAC noted that DMR was a small company with no prior penalties and that it recently hired trade counsel to assist in OFAC compliance issues.

So here we have what appears to be an intentional violation that was not voluntarily disclosed and yet the only penalty is a finding of violation — or, in more colloquial terms, a half-hearted slap on the wrist followed by a beat-down with a few wet noodles. This is likely because the real mitigating factor was one that OFAC did not want to mention much less admit: sovereign immunity. If OFAC wanted to collect any fine imposed on DMR, it would  have been forced to resort to an action in federal court, where is would have run up against the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq.

Of course, the FSIA issue here is whether the maritime registry function is a commercial activity exempted from the jurisdictional restrictions of the FSIA. The Supreme Court in Republic of Argentina v. Westover spelled out the test for making this determination

the question is not whether the foreign government is acting with a profit motive or instead with the aim of fulfilling uniquely sovereign objectives. Rather, the issue is whether the particular actions that the foreign state performs (whatever the motive behind them) are the type of actions by which a private party engages in “trade and traffic or commerce.

Dominica’s International Maritime Act of 2000 sets forth the various conditions for registration of vessels entitling them to fly a Dominican flag, including a determination of seaworthiness and compliance with various other regulatory requirements, including vessel marking. Once registered the vessel is accorded certain rights by the Dominican government, including the right to freely enter its ports. It seems beyond doubt that maritime registration, even if subcontracted to a U.S. corporation, is a governmental and not a commercial function.

Based on this, the real mitigating factor in this case had nothing to do with this being a first violation or that DMR was small and agreed to hire trade counsel. No, the real mitigating factor was that OFAC probably could not have collected any fine that it imposed.

Photo Credit: Dominica Seen From the Ship (10) by Gail Frederick [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]. Copyright 2008 Gail Frederick

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The UNPA Sidestep Doesn’t Allow OFAC to Shuffle Past the Berman Amendment

Posted by at 10:39 am on October 20, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

The House of Leaves - Burning 4 by Learning Lark [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]My post two days ago on the  fourth designation of IRGC by OFAC and OFAC’s claim that this new designation would prevent the supply of informational materials to the IRGC notwithstanding the Berman Amendment has resulted in a lively debate over in the Twitter-verse.  Some are arguing that because section 105 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CATSACT”) specifically directs the President to sanction IRGC under Executive Order 13224, and because Executive Order 13224 was promulgated in reliance on the United Nations Participation Act (“UNPA”), the Berman Amendment’s restriction on informational embargoes doesn’t apply.

Because a boring legal and export-geeky argument follows, here is the TL;DNR — Now that the Security Council has lifted its sanctions on the IRGC, the UNPA does not justify designation of the IRGC. That designation is properly made under IEEPA, meaning that the Berman Amendment still applies

The UNPA was passed in 1945 and, as it title implies, is the act that permitted U.S. participation in the United Nations. As part of that participation, the UNPA authorizes the President to take steps necessary to implement Security Council Resolutions. Specifically, the UNPA, in 22 U.S.C. § 287c(a), provides as follows:

Notwithstanding the provisions of any other law, whenever the United States is called upon by the Security Council to apply measures which said Council has decided, pursuant to article 41 of said Charter, are to be employed to give effect to its decisions under said Charter, the President may, to the extent necessary to apply such measures, through any agency which he may designate, and under such orders, rules, and regulations as may be prescribed by him, investigate, regulate, or prohibit, in whole or in part, economic relations or rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication between any foreign country or any national thereof or any person therein and the United States or any person subject to the jurisdiction thereof, or involving any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

So, although this provision does permit the President to ban any means of communication with a foreign country it does so only “to the extent neccesary to apply such measure” as the Security Council “has decided … are to be employed to give effect to its decisions.”  It is not like the International Emergency Economic Powers Act which permits the President to declare a national emergency and then apply whatever measures the President wants limited only by the Berman Amendment’s informational materials and travel exception and the other specific exceptions set forth in the Act. Instead, it is limited to implementation of specific measures adopted by the Security Council.

So the issue here is whether the designation of IRGC through an order under E.O. 13224 is necessary to implement measures set forth in a Security Council Resolution and whether it is limited to actions that are “necessary” to implement those measures. First, of course, we have to look at UNSCR 2231, which repealed all prior Security Council Resolutions regarding Iran. This means that the designation of the IRGC in UNSCR 1747 has been terminated. In addition, UNSCR requires the E.U. to remove the IRGC from its list of designated entities. So nothing in any Security Council Resolution regarding Iran authorizes designation of the IRGC under the UNPA.

Nor is there anything in the Security Council Resolutions that are the basis of E.O. 13224 that support the designation of IRGC. Those resolutions are UNSCR 1214, 1267, 1333, and 1363. All of these Security Council Resolutions authorize measures taken against the Taliban in Afghanistan and have nothing to do with, and do not justify, a designation of the IRGC. The Executive Order also cited UNSCR 1269, although it does not explicitly claim authority from that resolution. UNSCR 1269 authorizes and encourages multilateral responses to terrorism and does not authorize a unilateral designation of IRGC as a terrorist, particularly after UNSCR 2231 lifted the UN’s designation of the IRGC and requires the E.U. to remove the IRGC from its lists.

Although cited by those now arguing that OFAC is correct that orders issued under E.O. 13224 are not subject to the Berman Amendment’s exceptions, the Ninth Circuit decision in Sacks v. Office of Foreign Assets Control does not permit that conclusion. The Ninth Circuit does say “IEEPA imposes no such burden on the President’s powers when he acts under the UNPA.” But Sacks is clearly not justification for OFAC’s claim here that the Berman Amendment to IEEPA does not apply to its designation of IRGC under E.O. 13224.

Sacks involved Executive Order 12722 which imposed a travel ban to Iraq pursuant to UNSCR 661. Of course, that travel ban was specifically required by UNSCR 661, which required member states to prohibit all transactions in Iraq other than those involving “medical or humanitarian purposes.” Clearly a travel ban could be considered a measure necessary to implement the specific restrictions of UNSCR. The same cannot be said for the designation of the IRGC which is not necessary to implement the UNSCR sanctions against the Taliban or the UNSCR resolution authorizing multilateral responses to terrorism.

Even though the UNPA doesn’t authorize the designation of the IRGC under E.O. 13224, there is little question that such a designation would be authorized under IEEPA.  Of course, that means that the exceptions in IEEPA, including its restrictions on embargoes of informational materials, would apply to any such designation.

Photo Credit: The House of Leaves – Burning 4 by Learning Lark [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]. Copyright 2009 Learning Lark

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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OFAC Designates the IRGC for the Fourth Time

Posted by at 7:37 pm on October 18, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Imam Khomeini by Kaymar Adl [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]Last week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) was sanctioned yet again by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). I say “yet again” because prior to the latest action the IRGC had already been designated and blocked under Executive Orders 13382, 13553, and 13606. At this point, OFAC has now put the IRGC on the SDN List more more times than the Washington Nationals have been in the National League Division Series (three times) and way more times than they’ve won the NLDS (that would be never).

Which leads to the legitimate question as to what’s going on here? Are OFAC and the White House just trying to stir things up? Or is there some kind of monthly designation quota at OFAC, like the police department daily ticket quotas in Arlington, Fairfax and Falls Church which make driving in Virginia so risky?

Knowing that this issue would arise, OFAC released along with the designation an FAQ to explain why this designation is unlike the other ones.

Today’s action designating the IRGC under E.O. 13224, our counterterrorism authority, carries some additional consequences that will limit certain activities with respect to the IRGC. Persons designated under E.O. 13224, which now includes the IRGC, may not avail themselves of the so called “Berman exemptions” under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) relating to personal communication, humanitarian donations, information or informational materials, and travel.

That’s right. It is now a federal crime for a U.S. person to give a copy of The Bible to anyone in the IRGC.

Aside from the sheer stupidity of this result, it is not quite clear to me that it is actually the case that this new designation sidesteps the Berman Amendment. That amendment, codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1702(b)(3), restricts the actions that the President can take with respect to using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) to limit, among other things, the import and export of informational materials.

The new designation is the result of section 105 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CATSACT”) which specifically directs the President to sanction IRGC under Executive Order 13224. Now perhaps OFAC thinks that it can escape the Berman Amendment because these sanctions are under CATSACT and not under IEEPA. The problem is section 105 explicitly cites IEEPA in imposing the obligation to sanction the IRGC under Executive Order 13224. Moreover, the other three executive orders under which IRGC was previously sanctioned cite other statutory authority in addition to IEEPA, so it’s not quite clear why OFAC now says that throwing some statute other than IEEPA into the mix makes the Berman Amendment provisions on informational materials inapplicable. Finally, the result of a designation under Executive Order 13224 is to make the IRGC subject to the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations.  Those regulations, in section 594.305, have a definition of “informational materials,” a definition that would be completely unnecessary if OFAC thought that the Berman Amendment’s provisions on “informational materials” did not apply.

Photo Credit: Imam Khomeini by Kaymar Adl [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]. Copyright 2007 Kaymar Adl

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Beware the Smiley Face!

Posted by at 6:06 pm on September 13, 2017
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Camellia George via [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Parisa Mohamadi

A recently unsealed criminal complaint alleges that Parisa Mohamadi, an Iranian-born U.S. citizen, was responsible for exports of approximately $3 million of goods from the United States to Iran between 2010 and 2012. The fact pattern alleged in the indictment is a familiar one: the items, requested by Iranian buyers, were purchased by Mohamadi in the United States and shipped to a free zone company she incorporated in Dubai and then were transshipped to Iran from there.

Of course, there is no criminal violation without criminal intent. And in these transshipment fact patterns, where the shipment from the U.S. to Dubai would not require a license (if considered alone) and the shipment from Dubai to Iran was also one that was legal under UAE law, it is conceivable (indeed fairly likely) that the exporter may think that this shipment route is legal. (Remember we live in a country where 7 percent of the population believes that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.)

The criminal complaint understands this issue and tries to forward proof of Ms. Mohamadi’s criminal intent.  Truth be told, the government’s proof of criminal intent by Ms. Mohamadi can only be described as, well, completely whack-a-doodle.

The first “proof” cited by the complaint is this statement made by Mohamadi in an email:


The complaint adds a snarky footnote pointing out that the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors are those of Ms. Mohamadi alone and not an indication of any illiteracy on the part of the investigating DHS agent who signed the affidavit. This snark might have been justified but for the agent’s reference elsewhere in the complaint to an “I-Phone” (for iPhone) and multiple references to “U.S. Principal Party of Interest” (instead of “U.S. Principal Party in Interest”). Of course, nothing in this difficult-to-parse statement is inconsistent with a belief that the shipment was legal if it went through Dubai first.  As Ms. Mohamadi tried to make clear, she never shoots herself.

But the agent saved the best “proof” for last (with my bold and italics added):

Similarly, on November 1, 2011, Individual D from Iranian Business A emailed MOHAMADI: “How are you. I am at the sanction solution and money transfer conference in the university. So far I we doing it like no one does, very happy to be here, of course I am the youngest here, and and we do it like no one. That’s what separate us from the others.” MOHAMADI responded: “Good to hear that we are the best but off course in knew that already.” This was followed by three smiley faces.

The best I can tell the agent believes that the smiley faces are proof of criminal intent because nothing else in Mohamadi’s quoted statement about “being the best” even comes close. You might recall that FBI agents get specific training in smiley faces and their meaning, so I suppose DHS agents get that training as well.

And that’s it. That’s what the criminal complaint cites to prove that the defendant knew that shipping items from the U.S through a foreign company in Dubai to Iran was illegal:  three smiley faces and a desire not to shoot herself.  Maybe that’s why Ms. Mohamadi doesn’t have much of a smiley face in her mug shot.

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)