Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category


Jan

27

Epsilon, Epsilon


Posted by at 11:25 pm on January 27, 2015
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Soundstream Persian Catalog https://web.archive.org/web/20150128024201/http://www.asra-co.com/Download/SoundStream-Persian.pdf[Fair Use - Soundstream is Epsilon sub]As we reported in a recent post, The Auto Sound and the OFAC Fury Part II, auto audio manufacturer Epsilon Electronics responded to the $4 million fine imposed by OFAC by filing a lawsuit with what we think has little chance for success. One question that this raises is whether Epsilon might have had better alternatives than filing a long-shot Eighth Amendment lawsuit, and I think, after reviewing the exhibits to the complaint, that it did.

Epsilon was fined for its sales of $3.5 million in auto audio equipment from its subsidiaries Power Acoustik and Soundstream to Iran through its Dubai-based distributor Asra International. OFAC’s detailed, six-page pre-penalty notice leveled serious charges at Epsilon, including that Epsilon lied to OFAC in its subpoena response and other communications, that it knew or should have known that Asra only sold to Iran, and that it tried to obfuscate its Iran sales by eliminating a web page on its own site showing its products in Iran.

In response, Epsilon hired a Beverly Hills tax lawyer who filed a brief five-paragraph response amounting to less than a full page of text. This half-hearted response was mostly devoted to arguing, in its longest paragraph, that the owners of Epsilon were observant Jews and would never sell anything to Iran. It also argued, somewhat astonishingly, that OFAC’s prepenalty notice contained no evidence that any Epsilon products were sold to Iran and that the website references to its products in Iran were a false attempt by Epsilon to exaggerate its global reach in order to remain competitive with other major players in the electronics industry.

One can imagine the response over at OFAC to this letter, particularly given that the company, which claims it was prohibited by its religious beliefs from shipping to Iran, had already received a cautionary letter from OFAC arising from its own direct shipment of monitor parts to Iran in 2008. Nor could OFAC have thought much of Epsilon’s general inclination toward truthfulness given its claim that any indication on its own website that it sold products to Iran was a lie and thus no proof that any of its products actually were shipped to Iran.

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine how on earth this response was even filed with OFAC in the first place. Indeed, it seems to me that replacement counsel that filed the lawsuit against OFAC would have had an argument that it should be given a chance to prepare and submit a proper response to the pre-penalty notice. Of course, I don’t know if new counsel tried this and was refused by OFAC but I doubt this occurred or this would have been mentioned in the complaint. And even if OFAC had been asked, it may have refused. But given the problems with the original response and given the difficulty of overturning agency action on review, this was certainly what I would have tried.

On a slightly different topic, we noted in the first post on this case that the website of the distributor, Asra,  was now mysteriously under construction.  Of course, nothing ever dies on the Internet thanks to the Wayback Machine, and we found archived versions of the Asra website alive and well.  The archived websites make clear that Iran was Asra’s principal, if not its only, market.  Even its Farsi-language catalog of Epsilon’s Soundstream products, a page from which is pictured above, can still be downloaded here.

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Jan

22

The Auto Sound and the OFAC Fury Part II


Posted by at 9:54 pm on January 22, 2015
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

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]This blog previously reported the $4,073,000 fine imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) on Epsilon Electronics for selling automobile stereo equipment to a company in the UAE that resold the items to Iran. OFAC documents indicated that the reseller’s website made clear that it only sold its products to Iran, that Epsilon had attempted to conceal its dealings with Iran by eliminating a web page showing its products and labelled Iran, and that Epsilon under a prior business name had shipped a monitor to Iran for which it had received a cautionary letter from OFAC.

Epsilon has now filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the fine, alleging, among other things, that the fine violates the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Epsilon is invoking specifically the language in the Eighth Amendment which prohibits “Excessive Fines” from being imposed. It’s an odd claim given the Supreme Court’s statement in Browning-Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal, 492 U.S. 257 (1989), one of the Supreme Court’s few cases on the Excessive Fines clause, that the amendment “places limits on the steps a government may take against an individual.” No court, to my knowledge, has applied the clause to a civil penalty against a corporation. And, even if a court decided to apply the clause to a corporate fine, the principal of proportionality embodied by the clause would not likely be offended by a $4 million fine for the shipment of $3.5 million in goods to Iran.

The complaint further claims that OFAC properly failed to consider mitigating circumstances, namely that Epsilon had no idea that its distributor was shipping to Iran and engaged in no acts of concealment. The complaint includes as exhibits the OFAC documents stating Epsilon knew, or had reason to know, that all of its distributor’s business was conducted solely with Iran and that Epsilon had removed a web page on its site associating its products with Iran.  So it is more than a little odd, given that a reviewing court is going to give a great deal of deference to the findings of the agency under review, that the complaint makes these claims without even attempting to address these unfavorable findings by OFAC clearly set forth in the complaint’s own exhibits.

I said in my original post that, as a matter of policy, I thought OFAC had better things to worry about than pimped out cars cruising the streets of Tehran. But, sadly, I don’t think this complaint has the firepower to convince a court to force OFAC to spend more time on centrifuges and less on subwoofers.

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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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