Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category


Apr

22

Houston CEO Indicted For Not Having an Export License That He Didn’t Need


Posted by at 7:23 pm on April 22, 2015
Category: BISCriminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Smart Power Systems and Bahram Mechanic via http://www.smartpowersystems.com/content/main/corporateinformation.html [Fair Use]Houston-based Smart Power Systems and its CEO Bahram Mechanic (as well as various other individuals) were indicted last week on charges that they exported certain export-controlled items to Iran without a license. The indictment alleges that certain uninterruptible power supplies, microcontrollers and digital signal processing chips, all allegedly classified as ECCNs 3A991,  were transshipped through third countries to a company in Tehran, allegedly controlled by Mechanic.

Not surprisingly, the indictment tries to make the case that these run-of-the-mill electronic items are critical military goods that Iran can use to launch missiles and build nuclear bombs. Of course, the government’s credibility in its assessment of the alleged capabilities of these items is rather diminished by its claim that these items are classified as ECCN 3A991, one of the least stringent export controls under the Export Administration Regulations. At best, however, the microcontrollers are 3A991.a, which covers microprocessors meeting certain computational benchmarks. The uninterruptible power supplies are not covered at all by 3A991 and are almost certainly EAR99.

Worse, for the government, if the uninterruptible power supplies are EAR99,  then the government’s theory of what laws were broken by their exports to Iran completely collapses. The indictment alleges that the defendants violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because no license was obtained from the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”). Apparently, no one at the DOJ looked at EAR Section 746.7, which indicates that a BIS license is required only for certain items. EAR99 items are not among them.

Of course, a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) is required to export EAR99 items from the United States to Iran. But the government is not alleging Mechanic and Smart Power needed an OFAC license; instead, it is saying they  didn’t have a BIS license even though they did not need that license. If the government can’t get the law it is enforcing right, it should not try to send people to jail for violating it.

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Apr

16

Thursday Grab Bag


Posted by at 8:05 am on April 16, 2015
Category: Crimea SanctionsCriminal PenaltiesCuba SanctionsIran SanctionsOFACSudanSyria

Grab BagHere are a few recent developments that you may have missed:

  • Last month we criticized the Department of Justice for conspiring with foreign luxury car makers to jail U.S. citizens who exported luxury cars to China to arbitrage the difference between U.S. and Chinese prices for these vehicles. Apparently, the DoJ now is having second thoughts about wasting taxpayer money and its resources on this nonsense. According to the  New York Times, settlements have recently been reached in nine states where prosecutors have agreed to return seized cars to, and drop charges against, luxury car exporters. Good.
  • On Monday we reported that Obama was going to drop Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a move we thought was largely symbolic. Yesterday he did just that, and provided the 45-day notice required under the three acts that provide the basis for the list: § 6(j)(4)(A)(i)-(iii) of the Export Administration Act of 1979; § 40(f)(1)(A)(i)-(iii) of the Arms Export Control Act; and § 620A(c)(1)(A)-(C) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The linked New York Times article wrongly states that Congress can block this action with a joint resolution. Only the Arms Export Control Act provides for this blocking mechanism, and, as we noted, there’s no way that the White House will remove Cuba from the current arms embargo. So a joint resolution under the AECA would be, like the removal itself, largely symbolic
  • The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) revised its rules on Monday to amend the Syrian Sanctions Regulations to permit certain activities with respect to written publications, including the ability to pay advances and royalties, to substantively edit manuscripts and to create marketing campaigns. These activities have been permitted for Cuba, Sudan and Iran since 2004. Don’t try this yet in Crimea which remains, bizarrely and incomprehensibly, the most heavily sanctioned place on the face of the planet
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Feb

17

UMass Bans Iranian Students


Posted by at 7:34 pm on February 17, 2015
Category: Deemed ExportsIran Sanctions

UMass Amherst Student Union by Trace Meek [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracemeek/8972271164 [cropped]

[UPDATES BELOW]

Why solve a problem with a scalpel when there is a sledgehammer nearby? That is the question that UMass Amherst administrators must have asked themselves when they decided to ban all Iranian students from their graduate-level science and engineering programs. The problem, of course, that had the administrators in a tizzy was the fear that the university might engage in deemed exports of export-controlled technology to those Iranian students.

It seems, however, that the UMass administrators perhaps need themselves a little education in export law. For starters, the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) make clear in section 734.9 that information “released by instruction in catalog courses and associated teaching laboratories of academic institutions” is not subject to the EAR and that, therefore, teaching this information to Iranians (or any other foreign student) is not a violation of the EAR.

Perhaps the administrators are afraid that school labs might have export-controlled equipment and that Iranians, if they have access to these machines, might be considered to have received export-controlled technology. That may be a legitimate concern, but it is not one that is restricted to Iranians. To solve this problem, UMass would have to boot all foreign students.

Nor is there any merit in the argument, apparently made by a “policy analyst” at a small DC firm cited in the linked article, that this result is mandated by section 501 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act. That section prohibits the State Department from issuing visas to an Iranian to attend a U.S. university “to prepare … for a career in the energy sector of Iran or in nuclear science or nuclear engineering or a related field in Iran.” To begin with, this section imposes on obligation only on the State Department and not on any university in regard to its relation with a student once such a visa was granted. Nor does the prohibition extend to all fields in science and engineering, unless, somehow, a graduate degree in biology prepares one to work in the energy or nuclear field.

Beyond that, the University runs the risk of violating the anti-discrimination provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Those provisions prohibit discrimination in employment against a legally-admitted foreign national based on his or her national origin. Since graduate students normally receive employment from their universities, a total ban on Iranian graduate students could very likely be seen as a violation of those prohibitions.

UPDATE: An email from the DC firm discussed in this post indicates that their policy analyst did not state in the interview cited in the linked article that section 501 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights act mandated the position taken by UMass Amherst.  The email goes on to state that the law firm also believes, as I do, that the UMass Amherst policy is overbroad.

SECOND UPDATE:  Do you think maybe the folks at UMass Amherst read this post?  Probably not, but for whatever reason they’ve already reversed their policy banning Iranian graduate students in science and engineering.

 

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Feb

10

Because, Er, 9/11, That’s Why!


Posted by at 6:43 pm on February 10, 2015
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran Sanctions

Fokker HQ via http://www.fokker.com/Contact_us [Fair Use]Did you know that Iran attacked us on September 11? No, neither did I, but Judge Richard Leon apparently thinks so, because 9-11 appears to be the central reason he rejected the Deferred Prosecution Agreement in the case against Fokker Services BV for exporting U.S. origin aircraft parts to Iran. Seriously.

Back in July of this year, I speculated that the DPA was headed for difficulty because there was, apparently, an argument that the Government learned about Fokker’s exports to Iran from Robert Kraaipoel, a Dutch businessman who was indicted for selling U.S. origin items to Iran. Judge Leon has apparently convinced himself now that the voluntary disclosure was indeed voluntary and not prompted by Kraaipoel’s cooperation with the Government. At least that’s how I read footnote 4 to the Order.

Instead, Leon now rejects the DPA as too lenient because of 9/11 and Iran’s heretofore unknown role in that terror attack:

Here, Fokker Services is charged with a five-year conspiracy to violate and evade United States export laws for the benefit, largely, of Iran and its military during the post-9/11 world when we were engaged in a two—front War against terror in the Middle East.

Just in case you think Judge Leon was joshing when he linked Iran and 9/11, he makes the point a second time:

[A]fter looking at the DPA in its totality, I cannot help but conclude that the DPA presented here is grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Fokker Services’ conduct in a post-9/11 world. In my judgment, it would undermine the public’s confidence in the administration of justice and promote disrespect for the law for it to see a defendant prosecuted so ancmically for engaging in such egregious conduct for such a sustained period of time and for the benefit of one of our country’s worst enemies.

So, in the end, Fokker’s voluntary disclosure, its cooperation with the government, its remedial actions mean nothing because, you know, Iran was somehow or other involved in September 11.

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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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