Archive for the ‘OFAC’ Category



The Kremlin’s Janitor: New Sanctions on Russia Pose Dilemma for U.S.

Posted by at 10:35 pm on October 27, 2016
Category: BISOFACRussia Sanctions [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons the U.S. considers more sanctions on Russia, given its cybershenanigans and its involvement in Syria on behalf of Bashar al-Assad, it is running into some unexpected difficulties. The quote of the week, from this article, explains part of the issue:

“While the president has full sanction authority, there’s nobody left to sanction in Russia besides the janitor in the Kremlin,” said Michael Kofman, a global fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington. “In terms of expanding any kind of commercial or financial sanctions, we’re basically maxed out.”

While that is probably an exaggeration, it is not far from the truth. What that means is that individually targeted sanctions are becoming less effective, forcing a consideration of sector-based sanctions, which lead to their own problems in terms of collateral consequences. For example, the sanctions on Rosboronexport had to be revised because it prevented Afghanistan from getting parts for the Mi-17 helicopters that it uses.

Other possible sanctions would impact our allies as well as Putin and his cronies. Options such as preventing U.S. bank from buying ruble-based bonds, cutting off Russia from the SWIFT transfer system, or an embargo on energy exports, would each hurt Europe as much as Russia. Europe gets almost of one-third of energy from Russia.

This illustrates the problem of economic sanctions in a global economy. It’s one thing to whack an economically isolated country. You could cut Granada off from the world economy and the biggest impact would be that your holiday eggnog would have to go nutmeg-less. But for developed or developing economies that are largely integrated into the world economy, economic sanctions will have undesired and unintended effects.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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Just What Part of “Executory” Don’t You Understand?

Posted by at 3:22 pm on October 24, 2016
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Image via [Public Domain]A lawyer at another DC firm is having a conniption fit over the part of the new Cuba regulations that authorizes U.S. persons to enter into executory contracts in Cuba that are contingent upon OFAC approval. He apparently thinks that this goes to the “core” of the embargo and that OFAC is overstepping its authority as circumscribed by section 102 of the Helms-Burton Act and, although he does not cite it, section 204 of that same act.

We’ve all been through this before: section 204 applies only if the President seeks to “end” the embargo. As long as imports of chia pets and thermal underwear from Cuba are prohibited, the embargo has not been ended, which leaves OFAC and the White House pretty much free to do what they want in this regard.

Section 102, which is the provision relied on here by the lawyer in question, codifies the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in effect as of the date of the law’s enactment. But those regulations, in section 515.201, specifically provide that everything prohibited by the regulations may be “authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury (or any person, agency, or instrumentality designated by him) by means of regulations, rulings, instructions, licenses, or otherwise.” So, once again, OFAC can pretty much promulgate general licenses and regulations to its heart’s content. Whether it was Mr. Helms or Mr. Burton who left open this truck-height loophole doesn’t really matter.

Leaving aside the broader issue of authority, the blog post criticizing OFAC’s new rules on executory contracts somehow thinks that this rule goes to the “core” of the embargo — but why that is the case is far from clear. The author thinks that the problem arises because the executory contract is somehow or other a “dealing” in the property of a Cuban national. Now granted, OFAC has previously interpreted dealing in such a broad fashion that someone who just thinks about buying a vacation casa in Cuba has probably violated the rules. But, in an actual universe where people speak a language where words have a circumscribed meaning, it seems clear that a contract that says it isn’t dealing in property until OFAC says its okay to deal in that property, isn’t “dealing” in that property. Thus, OFAC can issue this regulation on executory contracts without violating statutory prohibitions  because an executory contract can legitimately be seen as not dealing in the property in question, because this regulation has not ended the embargo and because it remains consistent with the authority that Congress gave OFAC in section 102 of the Helms-Burton Act to authorize whatever it wants by regulations and licenses.

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Court Holds US Can Jail Anyone Anywhere for Dollar Based Transactions

Posted by at 7:58 am on October 21, 2016
Category: Criminal PenaltiesIran SanctionsOFAC

Reza Zarrab via Facebook [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Reza Zarrab

I often joke about the number of foreigners who arrive in the United States with their families hoping to see Mickey Mouse but who wind up seeing Elliot Ness and a jail cell instead. Controversial Turkish businessman Reza Zarrab showed up in Miami on March 19 of this year to take his wife and daughter to Disneyland and was arrested at the airport.  His application for bail was denied, and he is still languishing in jail, despite having retained fifteen lawyers from top-flight law firms.

Zarrab is accused of violating U.S. sanctions on Iran by processing payments through his financial network for companies in Iran.   His dream team of lawyers sought to dismiss the indictment, arguing that U.S. sanctions could not reach a foreign citizen requesting foreign banks to send money from foreign citizens to persons in Iran. Judge Berman, writing for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, just issued an opinion disagreeing with the defendant’s claim and asserting that the United States could prosecute anyone anywhere in the world engaged in any transactions involving U.S. Dollars.

There are two questions here, one much easier than the other.   The first is whether the Iran Transactions and Sanctions Regulations prohibit this conduct.   The court held, and probably rightly so, that since dollar-based transactions were involved, the transactions ran afoul of the prohibition in the regulations against the export of services from the United States to Iran.  Clearly, if a U.S. bank was used to clear the dollar transaction, there is a good argument that financial services were exported from the United States to Iran in violation of the prohibition in section 560.204 on the export of services from the United States to Iran.

The second and harder question is whether Congress, when it passed the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, under which the regulations were promulgated and which establishes criminal penalties for violations of those regulations, intended to reach extraterritorial conduct. And on this issue, Judge Berman reaches the conclusion that Congress intended in IEEPA intended to criminalize any conduct involving U.S. dollars but he does so by misquoting the relevant statutory provision:

50 U.S.C. § 1702(a)(l)(B) grants the President broad powers, including the power to
“investigate, block during the pendency of an investigation, regulate, direct and compel … any property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest … subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.”

Except here is what the statute really says with the omitted portions bolded and the significant provisions underlined:

investigate, block during the pendency of an investigation, regulate, direct and compel, nullify, void, prevent or prohibit, any acquisition, holding, withholding, use, transfer, withdrawal, transportation, importation or exportation of, or dealing in, or exercising any right, power, or privilege with respect to, or transactions involving, any property in which any foreign country or a national thereof has any interest by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States

The significance of Judge Berman’s misquotation is that he omits a significant qualification regarding “property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” The actual language gives the President the power “with respect to, or transactions involving,” property in which a foreign national has an interest but omits the power with respect to “transactions involving” property “subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” This is significant because Congress’s omission of “transactions involving” underlines the common understanding that Congress granted authority to block such property but did not go so far as to assert that it can criminalize foreign conduct by foreign persons that could be characterized as “transactions involving” such property.

NOTE:  My apologies for the sporadic posting but anyone who knows me knows that I am a die-hard Cubs fan, meaning that I’ve been up late, way too late, watching baseball games.  These games, as you may know, have run so late into the night in large part because pitchers (we’re looking at you Pedro Baez!) are blithely ignoring the never-enforced 12-second rule and are taking the time it takes for Watson to break a 256-bit AES cipher between pitches.  Once baseball finishes up for the season, I’ll be back to a more regular schedule.

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North Pole Praises Today’s OFAC Actions

Posted by at 4:27 pm on October 14, 2016
Category: BISCuba SanctionsOFAC

Santa Flanked by F-16

The following just arrived in my email:

MEDIA CONTACT: Elf E. McElfface, or (951) 262-3062

Santa’s Village, North Pole – Santa Claus today, on behalf of himself, Mrs. Claus and the 40,000 elfployees of the Santa Foundation, expressed his gratitude to the Office of Foreign Assets Control for its timely revision of its rules to grant Santa clear authority this year to visit children both in the United States and Cuba. For years, Santa’s efforts to bring holiday cheer to children of both countries has been thwarted by section 515.207 of the Cuba regulations which would prohibit Santa’s sleigh from landing in the United States while toys for Cuban children remained in the sleigh or in landing in the United States if those toys had been delivered to Cuban children first.

Today’s action waives these restrictions if Santa’s sleigh only carries items that would, if they were subject to the EAR, be EAR99 or controlled only for AT reasons. This ends the long struggle over whether teddy bears and other toys — which are not food, medicine, or personal communications devices — could only be delivered to Cuban children in wrapped parcels with the child’s name and address written on the outside and with the statement “GIFT—Export License Not Required” also marked on the parcel package. Notwithstanding the diligence and timely efforts of Santa’s elfployees, compliance with these requirements for each non-naughty child in Cuba has heretofore been impossible.

News of the OFAC announcement led to loud cheers and applause throughout Santa’s Village. Elf E. McElfface, Santa’s spokeself, wiped a tear of joy from his eye as he said to the elves in one of Santa’s workshops that he never believed that this would occur in his lifetime, which was saying a lot given that the average life expectancy of an elf on the North Pole is currently just over 500 years.

As Christmas approaches, Santa said that he was looking forward to this year’s delivery of toys and goodies to the nice children throughout the world more than ever before and reminded children everywhere, both in Cuba and the United States, that they could call his hotline at +1 (951) 262-3062 to leave their Christmas wishes and toy requests.

This press release may include predictions, estimates or other information that might be considered forward-looking. While these forward-looking statements represent the Santa Foundation’s current judgment on what the future holds, they are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially. You are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which reflect our opinions only as of the date of this press release. Please keep in mind that we are not obligating ourselves to revise or publicly release the results of any revision to these forward-looking statements in light of new information or future events.

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DOJ to Exporters: Confession Is Good for the Soul

Posted by at 9:40 pm on October 12, 2016
Category: BISCriminal PenaltiesDDTCOFACVoluntary Disclosures

Department of Justice by Ryan J. Reilly [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]Apparently the National Security Division at DOJ had a bunch of interns this summer with nothing to do, because this is the only conceivable explanation for the mostly risible “Guidance Regarding Voluntary Disclosures” which the NSD released on October 2. To set the tone for a further discussion of the substance of this Guidance, let’s start with a howler in the Guidance itself. Even if this guidance was written in large part, as it must have been, by eager interns, one would think that a grown-up lawyer would have reviewed this for substance. And, presumably, that grown-up lawyer whose job is to send real people to real jails would understand the laws that he or she is enforcing, right? So how do you explain this statement in the Guidance?

U.S. sanctions regimes and the Department of Commerce’s Export Administration Regulations are currently enforced through IEEPA.

Apparently, no one in the NSD has ever heard of the Trading with the Enemies Act which, as most of this blog’s faithful readers will know, is the statutory basis for the Cuba sanctions and their enforcement.  This is pretty embarrassing mistake about pretty elementary facts.

The thrust of the Guidance is an interagency power grab by which DOJ wants to take away the first responsibility for review of voluntary disclosures from OFAC, DDTC and BIS. The guidance states that voluntary disclosures should be made to the Counterintelligence and Export Section of NSD when the exporter learns that a violation “may have been willful.” Specifically, the Guidance says:

Ordinarily, when an organization voluntarily self-discloses violations of U.S. export controls and sanctions, it presents its VSD to the appropriate regulatory agency under the procedures set forth in the agency’s regulations. … It is not the purpose of this Guidance to alter that practice. However, as discussed further below, when an organization, including its counsel, becomes aware that the violations may have been willful, it should within a reasonably prompt time also submit a VSD to CES.

Actually the purpose is precisely to alter that practice. Remember that the criminal violations involved are violations of the agency regulations themselves. That gives the relevant agencies, and not the DOJ, the principal expertise in determining if a violation has occurred and if it was willful.

The practice until now has been to disclose violations to the relevant agency or agencies with the understanding that the agencies could, if warranted, refer the matter to the DOJ. Once the referral was made,  the prior agency disclosure and continued cooperation with the DOJ investigation would be the basis for credit by the DOJ. No longer. A separate disclosure to DOJ must be made without regard to an agency referral and, if not, the agency disclosure becomes irrelevant to the exercise of prosecutorial discretion if a subsequent referral occurs.

One of the hypotheticals discussed in the Guidance provides ample reason as to why DOJ, which clearly does not understand many of the basics of export control law, should not be usurping the primary role of OFAC, BIS, and DDTC, in export enforcement. In that hypothetical a foreign subsidiary of a U.S. corporation exports U.S. origin items in violation of BIS regulations. Without any suggestion of U.S. participation, the Guidance suggests that the parent would be offered an NPA by DOJ premised on payment of a criminal fine.

However, BIS rules, which have to be the basis of any prosecution in such a case, do not support a theory of vicarious liability by parent corporations. If the parent company did not export the items it could only be held liable, under section 764.2, for causing, aiding or abetting the export. That’s why in the recent Alcon Laboratories case, BIS held the U.S. parent liable for its exports to Iran but not for the exports of its Swiss subsidiary; those exports served only as a basis for a penalty against the Swiss subsidiary.

One last knee-slapper from the Guidance deserves mention. In another hypothetical, the Guidance says this:

Alert customs officers notice a bulky package within a container on a ship at a U.S. port bound to leave on a lengthy voyage overseas. The package contains ITAR-controlled commodities …

Because, you see, all bulky packages are suspicious and probably contain export controlled items. Just remember that when you send a birthday present to your aunt in Slovenia — make sure its just a small package in order to avoid scrutiny by CBP on the way out.

Photo Credit: Department of Justice by Ryan J. Reilly [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]. Copyright 2009 Ryan J. Reilly

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