Archive for the ‘Iran Sanctions’ Category


May

30

Having Baggage Is Not A Crime


Posted by at 5:10 pm on May 30, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDoJEconomic SanctionsIran SanctionsSanctions

Please Report Any Unattended Luggage by Kenneth Lu https://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/2619866851/in/photolist-DLUFQ-5z9X21-K3Ta2-4Zvv98-JHpPQ-AEW4c CC BY 2.0 [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/] (cropped)

A federal jury in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida recently acquitted Patrick Campbell on charges that alleged he attempted and conspired to violate U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.  As we reported at the time of his arrest last year, Campbell, who is from Sierra Leone, was detained at JFK Airport as soon as he cleared customs and was found to have uranium inside shoes packed in his luggage.  Prior to his U.S. arrival (and immediate arrest), according to the government, Campbell had been communicating with an undercover ICE agent in Ft. Lauderdale in order to arrange the sale of uranium from Sierra Leone to Iran.

We surmised at the time of his initial charging that Campbell had arguably done nothing in the United States that constituted an attempt or conspiracy to commit a U.S. sanctions violation simply by entering the United States.  Because the Iran Transactions and Sanctions Regulations cover only exports from the United States (which this was not) or exports by a U.S. person (which Campbell was only by virtue of being physically present in the United States), he could only be convicted for what he actually did while in the United States.  The Justice Department tested those boundaries, and a jury wasn’t convinced.  A great deal of credit should be given to Campbell’s attorney, Richard Serafini.

We spoke with Mr. Serafini about the case and the arguments he made to the jury in Campbell’s defense.  Mr. Serafini said that he emphasized to the jury that the Justice Department had not shown beyond a reasonable doubt that Campbell had done anything with the specific intent to violate U.S. sanctions.  In addition, he said that he told the jury that Campbell should not be considered to have committed any criminal acts as a U.S. person simply because he was lured to enter the United States by law enforcement.  Mr. Serafini said that he finally impressed upon the jury that, regardless of any criminal act that may have been committed, Campbell had been entrapped by the ICE agent to do so.

While no one can know what may have led the jury to acquit, it is certainly noteworthy that one or more of those arguments possibly resonated with jurors.  The jury instructions shed a little more light in that the court explained an attempt must be “more than simply preparing” and have a ”substantial step … that would normally result in committing the offence.”  What did Campbell do in the United States to meet that requirement?  Having uranium in your luggage could be seen by a jury as “simply preparing.”  As for conspiracy, the jury rightfully asked the court during deliberation whether the undercover agent could be part of the conspiracy.  The court responded simply, “No, a government agent cannot be a co-conspirator.”  In sum, it looks like the facts didn’t fit the crime and a well-marshaled defense portrayed that.

In so far as Campbell’s case has a bearing on subsequent sanctions prosecutions, we may have been clairvoyant in our warning last September:

As the stretch of sanctions includes more foreign individuals and their subsequent imprisonment, the United States may find itself retreating from expanding prosecution after a successful defense or even international criticism that U.S. sanctions as so applied are too attenuated for a reasonable interpretation of the sanctions’ purpose or the laws themselves.

Campbell’s acquittal sends the Justice Department back to the drawing board to reconsider future prosecutions based on undercover operations targeting foreign persons and inviting them to the United States for their unbeknownst arrest.  As we reported in the case of a Russian caught up a similar operation last year, the resulting arrest stirred U.S.-Russian diplomatic waters and resulted in his return to Russia after pleading guilty.  Be careful what you do on the Internet, and that goes for the government too.

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May

28

DoJ Miffs Description of Iran Sanctions


Posted by at 6:09 pm on May 28, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesDoJIran Sanctions

By Another Believer (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADepartment_of_Justice%2C_Washington%2C_D.C._2012.JPGIn a recent DoJ press release correcting a previous press release that incorrectly stated that the DoJ had indicted someone on export charges that they hadn’t actually indicted him on (oops!), the DoJ took the opportunity to try to explain the scope of the U.S. sanctions on Iran. Unfortunately the DoJ got it wrong. Of course, when an exporter makes a mistake about the scope of the Iran sanctions, it’s a big deal; but when the DoJ makes a mistake, oh well, we all make mistakes.

At issue are charges against Pennsylvania-based Hetran, Inc. which allegedly shipped a horizontal lathe to Iran via a company in Dubai. This gives the DoJ the opportunity to say this:

American companies are forbidden to ship dual use items – such as the peeler – to Iran without first obtaining a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce

Oh dear, where to start with this? Really, it’s just wrong in so many ways. Let’s start with section 746.7 of the Export Administration Regulations which sets forth the controls by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security on exports to Iran. That would have been a good place for the DoJ to start as well before attempting to explain U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Subsection (e) says this

No person may export or reexport any item that is subject to the EAR if such transaction is prohibited by the Iranian Transactions Regulations (31 CFR part 560) and not authorized by OFAC.

Subsection (a) says this:

[I]f OFAC authorizes an export or reexport, such authorization is considered authorization for purposes of the EAR as well.

So, where does that leave us?

Error 1: Licenses aren’t just required for exporting dual use items to Iran. OFAC rules forbid all exports to Iran except for certain limited items such as food, medicine, medical devices, informational products and personal telecommunications devices. Plenty of things that aren’t dual use (i.e. listed on the Commerce Control List) require licenses.

Error 2: the requirement for exports to Iran is a license from OFAC, not from BIS. A license from BIS is required only if no license from OFAC has been obtained and the matter is “not subject to OFAC regulatory authority.”  EAR 746.7(a)(2).

Here’s an idea: maybe people in the DoJ should be required to attend BIS’s annual Update Conference before they are allowed to say things about export law.

 

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Apr

30

U.S. Long Arm Stretches But Likely Won’t Reach Its Chinese Target


Posted by at 6:12 pm on April 30, 2014
Category: ChinaDoJEconomic SanctionsExtraditionIran SanctionsSDN List

FBI Wanted Poster [Public Domain]

The U.S. Department of Justice announced yesterday that it charged Li Fangwei, a Chinese national, with violating U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as with federal fraud violations.  Li, also known by a panoply of aliases including Karl Lee, Sunny Bai and Patric, is accused by the Justice Department of using a number of Chinese companies he controls to sell “metallurgical goods” and other items to Iran that are prohibited from sale to Iran under U.S., UN and other sanctions around the world because of their potential use in nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. Li himself was added to the SDN List in 2009 and his Chinese companies have been added to the SDN since 2006.  In fact, OFAC added eight Li companies to the SDN List yesterday.

With respect to U.S. sanctions, Li is alleged to have used front companies to engage in funds transfers through U.S. banks in order to conduct his business with Iran.  In a related matter, the Justice Department announced yesterday that the U.S. Government has already seized almost $7 million in funds attributable to Li’s companies that were held in U.S. correspondent accounts of foreign banks used by the Chinese companies.

The seizures are, of course, a success for U.S. sanctions enforcement.  It raises, however, the question of whether a criminal prosecution of Li is fruitful or may be even necessary in an effort to curtail his dealings with Iran.  In announcing the indictment, Assistant Attorney General John Carlin described the criminal prosecution as “part of the ‘all tools’ approach our government is taking against Li Fangwei.”  Indeed, other tools like those used by OFAC, in cooperation with the FBI and the Marshals Service, have so far seized millions attributable to Li front companies on the SDN List.  If OFAC can designate entities to the SDN List and funds in the United States attributable to them can be seized, what more can U.S. sanctions be expected to accomplish under the circumstances.

On that score, Li was part of a post here over five years ago when Robert Morgenthau, as then New York County District Attorney, announced a 118-count indictment against Li and one of his companies, LIMMT, alleging Li and LIMMT falsified business records in violation of New York law in transferring funds through New York banks in connection with transactions with Iran.  Back then, we questioned the legitimacy and efficacy of New York trying, in effect, to enforce U.S. sanctions and wondered whether OFAC wanted any assistance (or ultimately the distraction) from New York in its attempt to enforce U.S. sanctions policy.

History has a funny way of repeating itself.   Although the Justice Department actually has the authority to prosecute a U.S. sanctions violation, the same question of efficacy lingers.  Under a fair assumption that Li is in China now and the Chinese government knows Li’s exact whereabouts, there is almost no reason to think China will extradite him or even possibly curtail his activities with Iran.  Perhaps the Department is hoping that the $5 million bounty the FBI placed on Li’s head might prompt someone in China to nab Li, tie him up, put a bag over his head, put him in a container and ship him to the U.S. in order to claim the reward.

The case of Li Fangwei, therefore, should not be sidetracked to the U.S. justice system.  This is in OFAC’s bailiwick and OFAC should lead the charge, in cooperation with other U.S. agencies, to seize blocked property in the United States and liaise with Canadian, EU, Swiss and other foreign sanctions enforcement authorities to convince them that similar seizures should take place around the world and intelligence should be shared with each other on what new companies Li, and possibly others, are using to do impermissible business with Iran.

In the words of the Justice Department, Li Fangwei is a “fugitive.”  That could not be more of a misnomer.  The case of Li Fangwei simply does not fit the parlance used by U.S. prosecutors.  The Justice Department is right, however, that the United States is afforded a lot of tools in sanctions enforcement.  Sometimes, there are tools best left in the toolbox.

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Apr

18

Oh, The Places You’ll Go!


Posted by at 3:25 pm on April 18, 2014
Category: BISIran SanctionsOFAC

By Alec Wilson [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/awilson154/12221595055/sizes/l
N604EP in Zurich last January (Alec Wilson via Flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

According to an article in the New York Times, and a picture snapped by one of its reporters in Tehran, a U.S. registered corporate jet with a discreet U.S. flag painted on the tail and with the registration number N604EP was spotted three days ago on the runway of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran. At first, apparently not having seen the photographic evidence, Director General of Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport Nasrollah Mansouri Shirazi told the Tasnim News Agency, an IRGC-affiliated group, that no U.S. planes had landed at his airport. (Baghdad Bob is alive and well at the Mehrabad Airport!)

The appearance of the U.S. plane in Tehran has, of course, resulted in a whirlwind of speculation about what it is doing there. As the Times correctly points out, its unlikely to be a covert diplomatic mission what with the U.S. flag emblazoned on the tail and the jet sitting in full daylight in a spot where a reporter could snap a photograph. (Such trenchant observations are why the New York Times is, after all, the U.S. newspaper of record.)

The whole affair has the Bank of Utah, which owns the plane in trust for some shadowy and undisclosed investors, all flustered.

Brett King, one of its executives in Salt Lake City, said, “We have no idea why that plane was at that airport.

Mr. King, who helps run the bank’s trust services business, said the bank had no “operational control” or “financial exposure” to any of the planes.

For his part, Mr. King said Thursday in an interview that he was trying to get to the bottom of the aircraft’s presence in Tehran. “The Bank of Utah is very conservative, and located in the conservative state of Utah,” he said. “If there is any hint of illegal activity, we are going to find out and see whether we need to resign” as trustee.

If the jet was in Iran without authorization, the Bank, as the legal owner of the plane, is going to have a hard time trying to wash its hands of the matter simply by resigning as “trustee” and trying to walk away from the issue. It will certainly need to demonstrate to federal regulators that it took all necessary steps in its dealings with the mysterious owners to prevent them from flying the plane to embargoed destinations without authorization.

One final amusing note is that the New York Times cannot figure out which agency needed to authorize the plane to land in Iran:

Under United States law, any American aircraft would usually need prior approval from the [Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control] to go to Iran without violating a complicated patchwork of rules governing trade.

In the case of this particular aircraft, powered by engines made by General Electric, the Commerce Department typically would have to grant its own clearance for American-made parts to touch down on Iranian soil.”

Er, no, the license from OFAC would be enough. If the Times reporter spent a few moments with Google he would have easily found the Commerce Deparment saying this:

Although BIS maintains license requirements for Iran, OFAC is responsible for administering most Iran sanctions. You are not required to seek separate authorization from BIS to export or reexport an item subject to both BIS’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and OFAC’s Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) (31 CFR Part 560). However, you will also violate the EAR if you do not obtain an OFAC authorization if one is required.

I guess the fact-checkers at the Gray Lady aren’t what they used to be. . . .

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Mar

25

OFAC: Keeping Us Safe from MOOCs


Posted by at 5:24 pm on March 25, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsEconomic SanctionsIran SanctionsSudanSyria

By Aristóteles Sandoval [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A16-02-2011_Guadalajara_Libre_en_Palacio_Municipal.jpgThis blog previously reported on the impact of OFAC sanctions on the Massive Open Online Courses, quaintly known as MOOCs, offered by the for-profit Coursera. The sanctions have led Coursera to block students with IP addresses from Iran, Cuba and Sudan, a half-hearted attempt by the company to comply with U.S. sanctions.   Those sanctions, in general, prevent providing services to nationals of blocked countries even outside their home countries, so offering MOOCs to Iranians in, say, Germany, would be equally problematic. (Coursera gave Syrian students a reprieve relying, rather questionably, on an exemption in Syria General License 11A for educational exports by NGOs).

Last week, the Office of Foreign Assets Control gave Iranian students, both inside and outside Iran, a partial reprieve from the ban on MOOCs when it issued Iran General License G. That license permits enrollment of Iranians, both in and out of Iran, in MOOCs

provided that the courses are the equivalent of courses ordinarily required for the completion of undergraduate degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, law, or business, or are introductory undergraduate level science, technology, engineering, or math courses ordinarily required for the completion of undergraduate degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, law, or business.

Sadly, there was no happiness in Coursera-ville, because the license is restricted to “accredited graduate and undergraduate degree-granting academic institutions.” Not all of Coursera’s courses are offered by accredited academic institutions, so some of its course offering will not benefit from this general license.

Another beneficiary of the new general license would appear to be EdX, the MOOC platform founded by Harvard and MIT. EdX partners with other accredited academic institutions that provide the various offerings made available by EdX. One significant difference between EdX and Coursera is that EdX sought and obtained a license to provide MOOCs to students in  Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Apparently that license did not cover provision of STEM courses, i.e., courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, without specific approval by OFAC, according to this Harvard Crimson article.  That article went on to note the refusal of OFAC to permit a MOOC entitled “Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics” taught by MIT faculty.

This would mean that EdX and Coursera no longer need specific licenses for Iranian students to participate in courses taught by accredited institutions other than certain advanced STEM courses. However, licenses will still be required to initiate Cuban and Sudanese students into the intricacies of George Eliot’s Middlemarch or the structure of French symbolist poetry. (It is well known that familiarity with Eliot and Valéry are mere stepping stones to terrorist and anti-American activity, so we will be safe from literary Cuban and Sudanese terrorists, at least for the moment.) This General License, however, probably has no effect on the “Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics” course, because although it is far from clear what is meant by STEM courts “ordinarily required for the completion of undergraduate degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, law, or business,” it is probably safe to assume that “Flight Vehicle Aerodynamics” is not among them.

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