Archive for the ‘OFAC’ Category


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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Sep

22

Texas Man Charged with Smuggling for Forwarding One Email


Posted by at 10:10 pm on September 22, 2014
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

BlackBerry email on the BB 8330 by Ian Lamont(Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ilamont/4329363938/A criminal information was filed last week against Patrick Jean Zuber, a U.S permanent resident and former Weatherford International Vice-President, charging him with conspiracy to violate the anti-smuggling statute, 18 U.S.C. § 554. How did he get into such trouble? Actually, he didn’t do anything more than push the forward button to send an email from a company in Thailand seeking to purchase equipment for an oil project in Iran. That’s right: he is being charged not with sending any equipment to Iran; he is being charged with sending an email forwarding that inquiry from the potential customer in Thailand.  Zuber forwarded that inquiry to a Canadian employee of Weatherford.  This cold-blooded and heinous act of clicking “forward”  was deemed to be facilitation of an illegal export to Iran. The criminal information is silent as to whether any export actually occurred

Whether the Canadian to whom the email was sent was employed by a U.S. or foreign subsidiary of Weatherford is not made clear by the criminal information. If it was a foreign subsidiary, then at the time Zuber forwarded the email, it would have been perfectly legal, under section 560.205 of OFAC’s Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, for the Canadian citizen at a foreign company to export EAR99 items to Iran even if they were originally manufactured in the United States. In that case, showing criminal intent by Zuber, who may well have thought that Canada could legally fulfill the order he forwarded, is going to be extremely difficult.

Of course, there may be other facts not mentioned in the criminal information which justify this prosecution. But if the basic crime here is forwarding an email to someone that Zuber thought could legally fulfill the order, this really seems more suited for a civil, rather than a criminal, penalty. After all, section 560.205 of OFAC’s requlations does prohibit a U.S. person from facilitating a transaction by a foreign person that would be illegal if done by a U.S. person and so OFAC would clearly have the authority to fine Mr. Zuber for pushing the forward button.

Photo Credit: In 30 Minute Guides

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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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Sep

10

Sen. Landrieu Attempts to Clarify the Record … But Doesn’t


Posted by at 8:28 pm on September 10, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsOFACSDN ListVenezuela

Sen. Landrieu [Official Portrait, Public Domain]

On Sunday, in Lafayette, LA, The Advertiser printed an opinion from Sen. Mary Landrieu entitled, “Sanctions, as written, will hurt La. workers.”  While we hoped Sen. Landrieu was writing to clarify the record in response to our post last week, she was writing instead to respond to an earlier opinion in The Advertiser written by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Bill Cassidy.

Sen. Landrieu began by referring to the Lake Charles, LA oil refinery as “owned by Citgo, a Venezuelan company with a strong and respected reputation in Louisiana.”  Citgo, however, is quite clearly a U.S. company, founded and incorporated in the United States over a hundred years ago.  It became wholly owned U.S. subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, the Venezuelan national oil company, in 1990, but remained a U.S. company.  The hawkish view on U.S. sanctions is, of course, that Citgo, even though a U.S. company employing U.S. persons, is not immune from the conduct of its foreign parent if, in this case, Petróleos de Venezuela’s conduct were found to be at variance with U.S. economic sanctions and was added to the SDN List, its subsidiary Citgo would be equally blocked and unable to employ U.S. workers.

In her opinion, Sen. Landrieu continued to defend her opposition to the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 because she believed that “the legislation as written was too vague” and “will continue to oppose it unless the language of this resolution makes crystal clear that there will be no threat to the [Lake Charles] refinery.”  But, as we pointed out last week, Sen. Landrieu’s references to amending the Act have led to no clear (crystal or otherwise) suggestions on how to do so.  We think we can help her out.

The Act, like other sanctions bills, already permits the President to waive the application of sanctions against a person if he determines that such waiver is necessary for the “national security interests of the United States.”  The amendment we recommend to Sen. Landrieu is to rewrite the waiver in Section 5(c)(1) to read, “The President may waive the application of sanctions under subsection (b) with respect to a person if the President determines that such a waiver is in the national security or economic interests of the United States.”  By adding simply “or economic” to the waiver condition, the President has another avenue to defend not imposing sanctions against otherwise sanctionable foreign persons.  Again, as we pointed out last week, the President would not take lightly a decision to block Citgo’s assets in Louisiana or anywhere else in United States.  Congress, moreover, would be hard-pressed to oppose a waiver if the President were able to show that imposing sanctions would have tremendous economic ramifications.

If Sen. Landrieu wants to take the position that U.S. economic sanctions against human rights violators can’t come with a cost that significantly harms the U.S. economy, there is a way to protect that interest.  Whether or not her position wins the day on the Senate floor, we think the only practical way to do so is to give the President more discretion in how he may choose not to impose sanctions.  A tidy addition of the two words “or economic” should do the trick and put to bed another odd episode of “How a Bill Becomes a Law.”

 

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Sep

6

Bizarre Sanctions Battle Brews in the Bayou


Posted by at 9:34 am on September 6, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsOFACSanctionsSDN ListVenezuela

By User:Lunarsurface (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACitgo_sign_and_Yawkey_way.jpg

With the calendar turning to September, Sen. Mary Landrieu will be displayed prominently in election media coverage as an incumbent in the proverbial hot seat.  The most intriguing fodder her opponents have used against her has been her curious opposition to the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014.  The House passed its version by voice vote in May, but the Act has stalled in the Senate principally because Landrieu’s opposition has derailed others from bringing the Act to vote through unanimous consent.

The Act includes sanctions against individuals and entities associated with the Venezuelan government that the President determines committed, directed or “materially assisted, sponsored, or provided significant … support for” those who have committed or directed human rights abuses against anti-government protestors in that country.  Like many similar sanctions bills, Congress would give the President wide discretion in determining whether persons meet standards like “materially assisted” or provided “significant” support.  The Act would certainly not require the President to designate any company affiliated with the Venezuelan government as an SDN and, as a result, block their U.S. assets.

Sen. Landrieu, however, has opposed the bill out of fear that 2,000 workers at a Citgo oil refinery in Louisiana may be at jeopardy.  She has said that “once a simple sentence that protects these hard working Louisianans is added to the bill, I will be happy to support the legislation.”  So, what would Sen. Landrieu’s “simple sentence” look like?  It can’t possibly be a carve out for 2,000 workers at a Louisiana Citgo refinery; then every member of Congress with a Citgo presence in their state would want similar protection for their constituents.  It can’t possibly be a carve out to protect any U.S. companies owned by a Venezuelan parent, like Citgo is; then the sanctions would be bereft of any heft to affect possible change in Venezuela.

This week, Sen. Marco Rubio entered the fray in a letter to Sen. Harry Reid to ensure the Act is brought to the Senate floor for a vote over Sen. Landrieu’s opposition.  In his letter, Sen. Rubio described the Act as “target[ing] individuals only and pose[] no threat to American jobs or Venezuelan firms.”  Not so fast, Marco, the Act includes sanctions against “persons.”  Someone forgot to tell Sen. Rubio that every OFAC sanctions regime defines persons to mean individuals and entities.  Someone also forgot to tell him about the three Citgo storage facilities, hundreds of gas stations and thousands of affiliated jobs the company has in Florida.

One upshot of this situation is that members of Congress don’t understand how U.S. economic sanctions work.  It is odd that Sen. Landrieu has stuck her political neck out in a situation where the President would be the one under the Act who would have to designate Petróleos de Venezuela, Citgo’s Venezuelan parent, as an SDN if he determined it met the conditions under the Act.  Doing so would not be a decision taken lightly and would have repercussions beyond just Louisiana (ask any Boston Red Sox fan about what would happen to the Citgo sign above left field).  It is also odd that Sen. Rubio would put his name to a letter that declares no U.S. jobs would be threatened by these sanctions.  The fact is that threat remains under the Act, no matter how unlikely, and the President, not Congress, would be in control of imposing sanctions.

A simple moral to this story is a classroom adage: Read Carefully and Think Critically.  Here’s hoping politicians start doing a little bit more of both.

Clif adds: In my somewhat more cynical view, the likelihood that members of Congress will ever “Read Carefully and Think Critically” is exactly equal to the likelihood that I will ever debut as Wotan in a production of The Ring Cycle at the Met.

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