Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category


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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Aug

4

The Auto Sound and the OFAC Fury


Posted by and at 3:30 pm on August 4, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsIran SanctionsOFACSanctions

Soundstream Audio Car http://www.soundstream.com/images/intl-team/pic/england/england/images/new/UK%20(1).jpg [Fair Use - Soundstream is Epsilon sub]

OFAC announced that it assessed a $4,073,000 penalty against California-based Epsilon Electronics Inc.  Epsilon sells, among other things, audio and video equipment for cars (think of any number of MTV auto-improvement shows).  OFAC alleged that over an almost four-year period from 2008 to 2012, Epsilon sold such equipment valued at over $3.4 million to a UAE company, Asra International Corporation LLC, that “reexports most, if not all, of its products to Iran and has offices in Tehran.”  What is notable about the Epsilon penalty is the rare occurrence that OFAC described sanctions violation as “egregious.”

We have noted from time to time the confusion in OFAC enforcement announcements that describe “non-egregious” cases that appear on the facts provided to be anything but.  But now with Epsilon, we have precedent for what it takes to push OFAC over the limit.  So, what did Epsilon do to warrant the branding of an egregious offender?

Included in OFAC’s allegations were Epsilon’s attempts “to hide or purposely obfuscate its sales to Iran, when it changed a Web site to remove a photo gallery of Epsilon’s products that was labeled ‘Iran’” and “to mislead OFAC by providing false information in its subpoena responses and other letters to OFAC.”  It also doesn’t help that, as OFAC points out, Asra’s website indicated that it only distributed products to Iran (Asra’s website is curiously now under construction).

But what OFAC explicitly identified as its egregious benchmark was violations occurring after OFAC sent a cautionary letter to Epsilon in 2012.  After receiving the letter, OFAC alleged that Epsilon issued five invoices to Asra for products that Epsilon knew or had reason to know were intended for Asra’s resale in Iran.

Whatever the reason for Epsilon’s actions, even if a back-office mishap, the moral of the story is to treat OFAC’s cautioning not as a mere warning but as a pronouncement that OFAC is watching and there is a need to get your house in order.  A decision to continue with business as usual comes at a substantial risk unless a company can satisfy itself that what it is doing does not violate U.S. law.  That may be a tall order when OFAC has already informed you that it suspects violations have occurred.

A debate over OFAC’s adjectival use of “egregious” and “non-egregious” is not a matter of semantics.  Epsilon sold over $3.4 million worth of merchandise and now will be forced to pay that amount and over half a million more to the U.S. Government.  So, when OFAC gives you a yellow light, it’s best to slow down rather than speed up because OFAC has traffic cameras everywhere and your ticket will be in the mail.

Clif adds:  Another thing that accounts for OFAC’s fury and the mega-fine is that Epsilon had the temerity to challenge OFAC and file a response challenging OFAC’s Pre-Penalty Notice.  OFAC rejected Epsilon’s arguments summarily in the Penalty Notice, declining to reduce the proposed penalty by even a nickel.   Suffice it to say, OFAC was not amused by the extra work involved in responding to Epsilon’s objections.

The scarcely concealed ire by OFAC obscures an important issue.  What is at issue here are subwoofers and amplifiers used to pimp out cars in Iran, something that no doubt irks the mullahs and the Iranian government (presumably even more than it irks OFAC) as young Iranians cruise down the street blaring “Swagga Like Us.”   Whatever one may think of such behavior, one thing is certain: playing loud music in a car will not under any circumstances enrich uranium or detonate a nuclear device. Certainly Epsilon deserved a fine here but OFAC should have imposed one more in accord with subwoofers than centrifuges.

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Jul

15

Who Sang First, Kraaipoel or Fokker?


Posted by at 6:36 pm on July 15, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Rob KraaipoelBack in the early days of this blog in 2007, we reported on the case of Robert Kraaipoel, a Dutch businessman who was indicted for selling U.S. origin items to Iran, even though Mr. Kraaipoel had never set foot in the United States and even though the sales were completely legal under Dutch law. We challenged the notion that under international law, the U.S. origin of the items was enough of a basis to assert criminal jurisdiction over Mr. Kraaipoel.

In 2009, we reported that Mr. Kraaipoel had voluntarily flown to the United States to face the music. We expressed some surprise that he had done this and expressed even more surprise that the court let him fly back to the Netherlands after a guilty plea. At the time we noted that this was likely because he had agreed to cooperate with the government in indicting other bigger fish.  Indeed, the sentencing memorandum filed by the U.S. Attorney in 2012 cited substantial and extensive cooperation by Mr. Kraaipoel dating back to 2007.  The court ultimately sentenced Mr. Kraaipoel to sixty months of probation and no prison time, no doubt because of Mr. Kraaipoel’s cooperation with U.S. authorities vis-à-vis his dealings with Iran.

Now it appears that one of the companies that got snared by Kraaipoel’s cooperation may have been the Dutch company Fokker Services BV, about which we reported last month.  Fokker agreed to pay $21 million to OFAC and to the DOJ under a deferred prosecution agreement.  Interestingly, Kraaipoel’s role in the Fokker case may derail the deferred prosecution agreement itself.

The federal court judge charged with approving the deferred prosecution agreement was concerned that the agreement for lenient treatment was premised on Fokker’s voluntary disclosure in 2010.  Because Kraaipoel began talking with prosecutors back in 2007, there was some concern, and some sources who told Bloomberg News, that the government knew about Fokker’s misconduct well before the voluntary disclosure, which would, of course, substantially detract from the credit that Fokker should receive for having voluntarily disclosed the matter.

A hearing on the deferred prosecution agreement to resolve these issues is scheduled for July 24.

 

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Jul

7

Who Elected Ben Lawsky to Conduct U.S. Foreign Policy?


Posted by at 5:18 pm on July 7, 2014
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Official Portrait of Ben Lawsky http://www.dfs.ny.gov/about/staff_bios/blawsky.htm [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Ben Lawsky


Of the $8.9 billion fine being paid by BNP Paribas for violations of U.S. sanctions on Cuba, Iran and Sudan, $2.24 billion is going to the State of New York and, specifically, to Ben Lawsky’s Department of Financial Services. All of this will gild Lawsky’s credentials, overstuff the NYDFS’s coffers, and pay for NYDFS’s holiday parties and expensive lunches for eons to come, while not a single cent of this astonishing sum of money being handed over to the New York agency will go to anyone whom the sanctions seek to protect like, say, Sudanese refugees.

The NYDFS consent order justifies this mega-fine, in part, on BNP’s processing of $160 billion in dollar-denominated transactions for Iranian customers. This is the overwhelming bulk of the $190 billion total of dollar-denominated transactions at issue here for all three sanctioned countries. This amount for Iran covers, according to the consent order, the ten-year period between 2002 and 2012. Astute readers will remember, from the NYDFS/Standard Chartered fiasco, that we’ve been here before with NYDFS. Prior to November 2008 — i.e., for most of the period cited by NYDFS — it was perfectly legal for BNP’s NY branch to process off-shore dollar-denominated Iranian transactions under the so-called U-Turn transactions rule.

So, when Lawsky and his crew complain in the consent decree that the failure of BNP to include references to Iran in the legal U-turn transactions “rendered its New York Branch and other New York-based financial institutions helpless to detect payments that should have been rejected or blocked under U.S. law,” they are spouting utter nonsense given that these payments were legal before November 2008 and not required to be rejected or blocked. But Lawsky’s goal is to enrich NYDFS here, not to observe legal niceties like what OFAC’s rules actually said before November 2008.

There are two major problems here. First, NYDFS’s case is completely dependent upon the scope and extent of federal sanctions, because without a federal sanctions violations, none of the record keeping issues are material. And, obviously, the New York state regulators either have no clue, or do not care, as to the actual scope of those sanctions. Second, and more importantly, to the extent that everything is based ultimately on federal sanctions, the enforcement of those sanctions is ultimately a matter of U.S. foreign policy, something that should be in the hands of OFAC, the DOJ and the rest of the federal government and not in the hands of either the State of New York or, worse, the hands of a single New York regulator.

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Jun

5

Beat the Fokkers


Posted by at 9:32 pm on June 5, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

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 Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced today that a $21 million fine had been extracted from the Dutch company Fokker Services BV in connection with its export of U.S. origin spare aircraft parts from the Netherlands to Iran and Sudan. The re-exports to Iran and Sudan by a Dutch company were prohibited under section 560.205 of the Iran regulations and section 538.507(b) of the Sudan regulations because the aircraft parts were presumably ECCN 9A991, although this fact is not expressly stated.

Half of the $21 million dollars is being paid in connection with a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. This is disturbing because the OFAC announcement makes clear that the exports were voluntarily disclosed by Fokker to OFAC. One of the major incentives for a voluntary disclosure is to avoid criminal prosecution. After the Fokker case, people are certainly going to think twice about making a voluntary disclosure.

Nothing in OFAC’s description of the reasons for the penalty justify turning a voluntary disclosure into a criminal prosecution. OFAC describes the violation as “wilful and reckless” because Fokker knew that these were U.S. origin parts. Note that there is no claim that Fokker knew that its export of these parts from the Netherlands to the embargoed countries was a violation of U.S. law, only that it knew that the parts were U.S. origin. Foreign persons might well not understand that exports of U.S. origin parts from their own country and in compliance with their own laws would be illegal, so OFAC is making an unjustifiable leap from knowledge of the parts’ origin to a “wilful and reckless” violation of law. Another aggravating factor was the absence of a U.S. sanctions compliance program at the Dutch company, again hardly a sound reason for turning a voluntary disclosure into a criminal prosecution.

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