Archive for the ‘OFAC’ Category



UBS to World Chess Federation: White Knight Takes Black Pawn

Posted by at 10:15 am on February 16, 2018
Category: OFACSyria

Visita Ilyumzhinov by Federació d'Escacs Valls d'Andorra [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via[cropped]
ABOVE: Kirsan Ilyumzhinov
UFO Abductee

Things have not been going particularly well for Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, president of the World Chess Federation.  First, he was abducted by aliens.  Then he was designated by OFAC under Executive Order 13582 for “materially assisting and acting for or on behalf of the Government of Syria.”  Now, UBS in Switzerland has closed the accounts of the World Chess Federation, having tired of Ilyumzhinov’s repeated claims that he was about to be removed from the SDN List.

Of course, UBS in Switzerland is not subject to OFAC’s blocking rules and was not required to block or freeze the account. Rather, UBS closed these accounts based on a white money strategy of not dealing with customers subject to U.S. sanctions.  It is not clear whether this is a result of any representations or agreement made by UBS to OFAC.  In 2015 UBS settled with OFAC over charges that UBS had opened U.S. dollar accounts for another individual on the SDN list.

Of course, as we know from the Exxon case, Ilyumzhinov’s position as President of the World Chess Federation poses difficulties for any U.S. person dealing with the Federation.  Each U.S. person dealing with the Federation will need to make sure that Ilyumzhinov is not involved. Allegedly, Ilyumzhinov has claimed that he has removed himself from the “legal, financial and business operations” of the Federation until he is removed from the SDN List. Of course, he also claimed, almost two years ago, that he was going to sue OFAC, something that has yet to happen. Oh, and he also has claimed that he was whisked away in a UFO by aliens to visit a distant star. So, in my view, U.S. persons deal with the World Chess Federation at their own peril and risk.

Photo Credit: Visita Ilyumzhinov by Federació d’Escacs Valls d’Andorra [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via [cropped]. Copyright 2014 Federació d’Escacs Valls d’Andorra

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2 Bad Ideas ≠ 1 Good Idea: EU Considers Blocking Rules If US Exits Iran Deal

Posted by at 4:15 pm on February 9, 2018
Category: Foreign CountermeasuresIran SanctionsOFAC

Denis Chaibi via[Fair Use]
ABOVE: Denis Chaibi

In response to the current administration’s hourly threats to pull out of the nuclear deal with Iran, it appears that the EU might not only remain in the deal but also adopt blocking regulations prohibiting E.U. firms from complying with any resurrected U.S. sanctions on Iran.  This idea was floated by Denis Chaibi, head of the Iranian task force of the EU’s external action service, at a Euromoney conference in Paris.

Chaibi cited the Cuban embargo blocking regulations as an example of what they were thinking about. The problem, of course, is that the folks at OFAC do not care about silly E.U. laws. If a European subsidiary of a U.S. company tells OFAC that it was required by European law to ignore U.S. sanctions, the response from OFAC has always been terse and brutal: do we look like we care? The U.S. rules the world, our laws apply everywhere and to everyone, and instead of obeying European laws that conflict with U.S. laws you have two choices: break the law in Europe or get the heck out of Europe.

Don’t believe me? Ask American Express. Ask Carlson Wagonlit. Or American Honda Finance Corporation.

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Leaving on a Jet Plane (for Masikryong)

Posted by at 9:32 am on February 1, 2018
Category: BISNorth Korea SanctionsOFAC

Joint Press Corps vi [Fair Use]The Olympics are, in theory, a time when foreign policy should be put aside and world athletes simply compete in the probably vain hope that peaceful athletic games might have a spill-over effect into the stormier regions of international relations.   That being said, UN and US sanctions have gotten tangled up in the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea.

First, the International Olympic Committee, following its checkered past, ignored UN sanctions by shipping recreational sports equipment to the Nork athletes for training.   If any of that equipment was U.S. origin, the IOC would have violated U.S. sanctions all well.  Both prohibit the export of “recreational sports equipment” to North Korea.

Recently, an obscure provision in Executive Order 13810 reared its ugly head. Section 2(a) prohibits foreign aircraft that have landed in North Korea from visiting the United States for 180 days after the aircraft has departed North Korea. When the Executive Order came out, it was hard to imagine that this would ever apply to anything.  Who flies into Nork airports that would want to later fly those planes to the United States?  But now, it turns out, the South Korean ski team had chartered an Asiana aircraft to fly to North Korea’s Masikryong Ski Resort for training with the North Korean team.  The plane would then to return to South Korea on the following day with the North Korean skiers who would remain in South Korea to participate in the Winter Games. Oops.

Apparently, according to this source, OFAC was initially reluctant to waive section 2(a) for the chartered Asiana flight, which would have pretty much put the kibosh on the flight to the joint training session. But minutes before the flight was to take off on 10:40 a.m. Wednesday time, Korea time, OFAC had a change of heart and the airplane left for North Korea.

The Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) was not involved, even though BIS has said that the Airbus 321 is subject to the EAR as a result of havingU.S. origin engines which constitute more than 10 percent of the value of the aircraft. Presumably everyone felt that License Exception AVS would cover the temporary sojourn of the A321 in North Korea, even though the regulations are poorly written in this regard and do not clearly cover foreign manufactured aircraft subject to the EAR flying from a foreign country to North Korea.

License Exception AVS covers (1) foreign registered aircraft on temporary sojourn in the United States departing for foreign destinations, (2) U.S. registered aircraft departing for a temporary sojourn in a foreign destination, and (3) “[c]ivil aircraft legally exported from the United States.” Section 764.4(c)(6) says that AVS may be used for North Korea to the extent that it involves civil aircraft legally exported from the United States. Asiana’s A321 was not itself exported from the United States, although the U.S. origin engines that make the aircraft subject to the EAR were. To reach the result that AVS applies here, you have to interpret “civil aircraft legally exported from the United States” to cover aircraft where U.S. origin parts which make the aircraft subject to the EAR were legally exported, a plausible (if not certain) reading, I suppose, of that language.

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Another Reason not to Hire the Russian Mob

Posted by at 11:09 pm on January 29, 2018
Category: OFACSanctionsSDN List

Hotel Vesna via [Fair Use]This story is on some month-old news that I missed at the time of the announcement. But without much else going on right now, I thought it worthy of a belated mention. Back in December, OFAC designated Thieves in Law («Вор в закoне»), a Russian organized crime group, under the agency’s Transnational Criminal Organization Sanctions Regulations (“TCO Sanctions”). The Thieves in Law apparently originated in the Russian gulags after the Russian Revolution. Unlike the Mafia, you could not belong to the group unless you had already been in jail. And like the Boy Scouts, they have their own code of conduct which, unlike the Boy Scout Code, forbids marriage and work. They sound like The Lost Boys in Peter Pan, except with tattoos and machine guns.

On one level, it seems somewhat odd to designate an organized crime organization since it is more a concept than a legal entity. It is not like the Thieves in Law own property, want to open a checking account for the group, or want to enter into legal contracts (as opposed to, say, the hit “contracts” often entered into by criminal gangs). Designating an unorganized group is rather like designating, say, the Beliebers, although on further reflection I might actually be completely in favor of blocking the Beliebers.

Of course, at the same time that OFAC designated Thieves in Law, it also designated some of the groups more visible adherents and supporter, which seems more logical since they will own property that can be blocked and may seek to do business with others. As a result, the Vesna Hotel and Spa, which is in Sochi and which is owned by Ruben Tatulian, was also blocked and added to the SDN List. Tatulian was designated for allegedly providing material support to Thieves in Law.

Although I doubt many Americans are traveling to Sochi these days, this designation might create a trap for unwary travelers. Executive Order 13581, which serves as the basis for the TCO Sanctions, was promulgated under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, meaning that the travel exemption in section 1702(b)(4) of that Act would apply.  The travel exemption permits “any transactions ordinarily incident to travel to or from any country.” It seems to me that, even though the exemption would on its face cover travel by U.S. persons which involved staying in that hotel, it could also be argued that staying at that hotel is not ordinarily incident to travel to Russia.  This would be because there are plenty of other places to stay in Sochi not to mention within Russia. Moreover, a broad reading of the travel exemption would completely negate the designation of the hotel, so there is a good chance that OFAC would take the position that the exemption would not apply.

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OFAC Doesn’t Understand How Money Works

Posted by at 1:13 pm on January 23, 2018
Category: OFACVenezuela

Nicolas Maduro via [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in December announced his plans to have Venezuela issue a commodity-backed cryptocurrency.  Although cryptocurrencies typically have no backing, there is no reason that they could not.  In such a situation, the blockchain would take over the validation function normally performed by a central bank.  Maduro’s cryptocurrency would, he says, be backed by oil, gas, diamond and gold reserves.  The opposition dismissed Maduro’s plan and called him a “clown” for even suggesting the new currency.

Not to be out-clowned, the Office of Foreign Assets Control last week issued its own FAQ on Maduro’s vague and unimplemented plan:

551. In December 2017, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced plans for the Government of Venezuela to launch a digital currency. According to public reporting, Maduro indicated that the digital currency would carry rights to receive commodities in specified quantities at a later date. Were the Venezuelan government to issue a digital currency with these characteristics, would U.S. persons be prohibited from purchasing or otherwise dealing in it under E.O. 13808?

A currency with these characteristics would appear to be an extension of credit to the Venezuelan government. Executive Order 13808 prohibits U.S. persons from extending or otherwise dealing in new debt with a maturity of greater than 30 days of the Government of Venezuela. U.S. persons that deal in the prospective Venezuelan digital currency may be exposed to U.S. sanctions risk. [1/19/2018]

Oh dear. They really said that? Seriously??

For starters, let’s address the notion that using currency issued by a government is an extension of credit to the government. Credit is extended to a government when goods or services are supplied to that government without a requirement for immediate payment. By that common and uncontroversial definition, accepting fiat money or representative money in exchange for goods and services from a private individual is not an extension of credit by the purchaser to the government that issued the currency because no goods or services were supplied by the purchaser to the government. This is even the case even if goods and services are provided to the government because the currency obtained can be immediately used for other transactions and there is no delayed payment. If the government paid with a debt instrument, such as a bond with a future maturity, then that would be an extension of credit to the government.

It appears that the genesis of OFAC’s misconception here is that the currency can be exchanged later with the government for the underlying commodity. Even were that an extension of credit to the government, OFAC’s rules would only be implicated if that exchange was delayed for more than 30 days. But, of course, the point of commodity backed currency is that it is immediately convertible. One could take the new Venezuelan currency and immediately demand to exchange it for oil, gas, gold or diamonds, so it does not have a “maturity of greater than 30 days.”

You know, you would think that the people at the Treasury, of all places, would understand how money works.

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Copyright © 2018 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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