Archive for the ‘OFAC’ Category



Bad News For Anyone Named Paul Davis

Posted by at 9:46 am on September 23, 2016
Category: OFACSDN List

Paul Davis via [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Paul Davis

Yesterday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated PacNet Services, a Canadian payments processing company, and many of its officers and employees as SDNs under the Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) program. According to OFAC’s press release, PacNet “knowingly process[ed] payments on behalf of a wide range of mail fraud schemes that target victims in the United States and throughout the world.” Prior to this designation, only ten individuals and entities (comprising seven organizations) had been designated under the TCO program.

The head of PacNet, who was designated as part of yesterday’s OFAC action, is an individual and pilot named Paul Davis. According to OFAC, in one of its more colorful allegations, Davis used his piloting skills and aircraft “to move illicit bulk cash within Europe.”

Long term readers surely see now what’s coming next. Over the next several weeks, it is likely that anyone anywhere in the world named Paul Davis will confront a financial nightmare as banks, credit card companies and anyone else with screening software will deny them loans, seize their credit card payments, cancel their leases, and otherwise muck up any financial transactions in which they are involved. And, of course, since these Paul Davises are not the “real” Paul Davis, they have no rights at OFAC other than to try to unblock funds each and every time that happens.

It really is time for OFAC to have the common decency to figure out a solution for these unintended collateral consequences that occur when people with common names are designated. They do it for companies, like Tidewater, Inc, but simply cannot be bothered with mere individuals. And parents, before giving your kids a common name, think twice. Naming your kid Uriah Aloysius is beginning to look pretty attractive.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)



Burma Sanctions Will Sunset (No OFAC Action Necessary)

Posted by at 11:46 pm on September 14, 2016
Category: Burma SanctionsOFAC

Bagan by Staffan Scherz [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]President Obama announced today, after meeting with the newly elected President of Burma, that he intends to lift all remaining sanctions on Burma. With unusual alacrity, at least for the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), that agency issued FAQ #480 stating that its sanctions against Burma would disappear the moment that the President issues an executive order terminating the national emergency with respect to Burma. In other words, the Burmese Sanctions Regulations will immediately become ineffective even if it takes, as it probably will, months for OFAC to get around to pulling them down or issue a rule repealing them.

Of course, and not surprisingly, that FAQ may not be true. The restrictions on the import of jade and rubies from Burma were imposed by the infelicitously named “Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008” and cannot be removed until the White House makes certain notifications to Congress.

There is also the question of the status of blocked individuals after the President declares that the national emergency with respect to Burma is over. Section 5(b)(1) automatically blocked the property of certain persons in Burma and section 5(h) requires congressional notification before waiving that sanction. In 2009, the President issued a waiver as to all such persons not listed on the SDN List and that waiver has been congressionally notified.

But is President Obama really intending to remove everyone on the SDN List designated under the Burma sanctions including Steven Law and his companies such as Asia World? Law is on the list for narcotics trafficking, and there seems little reason to rehabilitate him simply because Burma has a democratically elected government. But if Law and his companies remain on the SDN list and the regulations go away, what happens to General License No. 20, which permits goods to be exported to Burma through Asia World ports? Without that license, exports to Burma from the United States will effectively be halted again.

Perhaps we need a few more FAQs.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Flowers for Ahmadinejad

Posted by at 9:25 pm on September 13, 2016
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Sorbet Autumn Select Mix Viola via [Fair Use]The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) today fined a company a whopping $4,320,000 for selling things to Iran. Oh wow, you say, this must have been some really bad stuff like, say, high-powered computers or drones, right? Yep, really dangerous stuff — flower seeds. As in, the things you bury in your backyard and hope sprout up as zinnias.

Well, okay, so maybe they didn’t sell anything dangerous. The company, which is PanAmerican Seed in Illinois, must have sold like a billion dollars worth of seeds, right? Um, we don’t know the value of the seeds. For some reason OFAC won’t say. This is odd because OFAC almost always says what the value of the shipments was. OFAC does say something surpassingly strange about the dollars involved, something it’s never said before. In aggravating factor 4, OFAC says this:

PanAm Seed engaged in this pattern of conduct over a period of years, providing over $770,000 in economic benefit to Iran.

Now this is definitively not the value of the shipment. If $770,000 was the price of the exported goods, then PanAmerican which, presumably, was paid for the seeds by people in Iran, got the $770,000 benefit, or at least however much of that price represented its profit. I suppose this means the profit Iranians made after planting the seeds and selling the flowers, although how OFAC figured that out is rather hard to discern. And if the profits made by Iranian on the seeds is the economic benefit to Iran, then the value of the shipments had to be well south of that figure.

Why OFAC would go to such length to obfuscate the value of the shipments is unclear. Leaving aside that we are talking about petunia seeds here, PanAmerican Seed, at least if OFAC is to be believed, did not behave well. Apparently, it knew what it was doing; it concealed the ultimate destination of the shipments; it refused to cooperate with OFAC when it was turned in; and it apparently provided “inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete” information to OFAC

In any event, it still seems that OFAC has better things to do than to tiptoe through the tulips in Tehran.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Let No Such Man Be Trusted

Posted by at 8:46 pm on August 29, 2016
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Send a Piano to Cuba by Cubanos en UK via Cubanos en UK Facebook Page per [Fair Use]Some Cubans in London wanted to send a piano to Conservatory Amadeo Roldan in Havana. They raised money for this gift by holding a classical music concert and sold tickets for the event through the U.S. company Eventbrite. Things immediately went downhill for that poor piano.

Not surprisingly, Eventbrite confiscated the money from the ticket sales and refused to send it to Cubanos en UK. Daniesky Acosta, the head of that group, tried to tell Eventbrite that, as the group and the concert were in London, the confiscation of the funds was “outside U.S. law.” Except of course Eventbrite isn’t.

So Acosta tried a different tack, citing the E.U. blocking regulation that prohibits people in the E.U. from complying with the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Unfortunately, Eventbrite is in San Francisco and not subject to the directive. Cubanos en UK has sought to enlist the U.K. government on its side, again without much success given the location of Eventbrite.

Cubanos en UK then, oddly, talked to the Attorney General of the State of Iowa:

Cubanos en UK sought legal advice from the … attorney general of Iowa, Tom Miller, who has years of experience working on OFAC regulations with regards to the Cuba blockade. Miller told the organization that the transaction was legal, but Eventbrite continues to insist that it is in violation of OFAC regulations.

I’m not quite clear why the Attorney General of Iowa is an OFAC expert in the first place, but his alleged claim that the export of the piano to Cuba would be perfectly legal suggests that he might not in fact have profited much from his “years of experience” working on OFAC’s rules on the Cuba embargo. The closest exemption in the Cuba regulations would be the section which permits humanitarian donations to “projects involving formal or non-formal educational training.” This, without more, might cover the donation of piano to a music conservatory. The problem is the further qualification: the covered eductation training is limited to

Entrepreneurship and business, civil education, journalism, advocacy and organizing, adult literacy, or vocational skills; community-based grassroots projects; projects suitable to the development of small-scale private enterprise; projects that are related to agricultural and rural development that promote independent activity; microfinancing projects, except for loans, extensions of credit, or other financing prohibited by §515.208; and projects to meet basic human needs.

Although “civil education” is somewhat vague, it presumably means the sort of things taught in a civics class, and although you and I might agree that music is a basic human need, I think OFAC means more basic needs like food, water and shelter. So, for as much as I favor sending pianos to Cuba, it seems that a specific license would be needed.

[Title of this post is taken from here.]

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Yes, We Have No Bananas!

Posted by at 5:33 pm on August 16, 2016
Category: Economic SanctionsOFAC

Bananas by Anthony Easton [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]

The problem with many economic sanctions, particularly those aimed at drug lords, is that they wind up hurting the wrong people. Consider the case of the designation of the inaccurately named John Angel Zabaneh by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) as detailed in this excellent Reuters news story. OFAC put Zabaneh on the SDN List based on its belief that Zabaneh is connected with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, although Zabaneh denies this.

Because drug lords do not live by drugs alone, targeted narcotics kingpins in Central America often have other, and sometimes quite significant, legitimate business interests. In this case, Zabaneh was also a banana farmer in Belize and his farms contributed a significant portion of Belize’s banana exports. It should probably come as no surprise that bananas constitute about 20 percent of all of Belize’s exports.

So when OFAC designated Zabaneh, it ultimately resulted in shutting down his banana farms when his customers became unwilling to deal with him. This resulted, according to the Reuters article, in a 13.5 percent plunge in banana exports from Belize and the loss of 900 jobs previously held by workers on the Zabaneh farms.

There is no evidence that this caused Mr. Zabaneh to exit the drug trade, if he ever was in it, or crimped his lifestyle in any fashion. The only effects, it would appear, of the OFAC sanctions was that it allowed the U.S. government to feel good about itself and caused a bunch of people in Belize, with no connection to any drug trade, to wonder where there next meal might be coming from.

Photo Credit: Bananas by Anthony Easton [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped and processed]. Copyright 20xx Sami Keinanen

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)