Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ Category


Aug

20

The Consolidated Screening List Isn’t


Posted by at 9:01 pm on August 20, 2014
Category: BISCompliance Programs and ProceduresDDTCDebarred ListDenied Party ListEntity ListOFACRussia SanctionsSanctionsSDN ListUnverified List

PortShip by USDA (cropped) via https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/9715983721 [CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]The U.S. Government, over at export.gov, provides a so-called Consolidated Screening List, which you might think would be a one-stop shopping list for your screening needs, something that might be useful if you or your company does not subscribe to or implement one of the commercial screening solutions. Unfortunately, the Consolidated Screening List doesn’t consolidate all the lists you should review and has other significant limitations.

The good news is that the list now does include the Foreign Sanctions Evaders List, which was not included for some time after the list was adopted by Treasury back in February of this year. The description of the list still does not mention the FSE list, but the entries on that list have been quietly added.

However, two other Treasury Department lists are still not included. The relatively new Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List is missing as action. U.S. persons are forbidden from engaging certain transactions with entities on this list, including providing credit in excess of ninety days. Part of the reason for this is probably that the “consolidated” list is infrequently updated. The last update of the list was almost two months ago, on June 26, 2014.

In addition, the Palestinian Legislative Council List, adopted back in 2006, is not included. U.S. financial institutions must reject (not block) transactions with people on the PLC list.

Not only is the “consolidated” list not complete or consolidated, but also it is dangerous to rely on it alone for another significant reason. The search page for the list only retrieves literal matches and does not allow address searching. In addition to searching the consolidated list, you should also rely on OFAC’s sanction list search tool. That tool uses, fairly successfully, “fuzzy logic” to retrieve similarly spelled names. Because many of the names on the list are transliterated versions of Arabic names, meaning that there are many alternate spellings, the “fuzzy logic” will be somewhat more successful in identifying alternate spellings.

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Aug

4

The Auto Sound and the OFAC Fury


Posted by and at 3:30 pm on August 4, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsIran SanctionsOFACSanctions

Soundstream Audio Car http://www.soundstream.com/images/intl-team/pic/england/england/images/new/UK%20(1).jpg [Fair Use - Soundstream is Epsilon sub]

OFAC announced that it assessed a $4,073,000 penalty against California-based Epsilon Electronics Inc.  Epsilon sells, among other things, audio and video equipment for cars (think of any number of MTV auto-improvement shows).  OFAC alleged that over an almost four-year period from 2008 to 2012, Epsilon sold such equipment valued at over $3.4 million to a UAE company, Asra International Corporation LLC, that “reexports most, if not all, of its products to Iran and has offices in Tehran.”  What is notable about the Epsilon penalty is the rare occurrence that OFAC described sanctions violation as “egregious.”

We have noted from time to time the confusion in OFAC enforcement announcements that describe “non-egregious” cases that appear on the facts provided to be anything but.  But now with Epsilon, we have precedent for what it takes to push OFAC over the limit.  So, what did Epsilon do to warrant the branding of an egregious offender?

Included in OFAC’s allegations were Epsilon’s attempts “to hide or purposely obfuscate its sales to Iran, when it changed a Web site to remove a photo gallery of Epsilon’s products that was labeled ‘Iran’” and “to mislead OFAC by providing false information in its subpoena responses and other letters to OFAC.”  It also doesn’t help that, as OFAC points out, Asra’s website indicated that it only distributed products to Iran (Asra’s website is curiously now under construction).

But what OFAC explicitly identified as its egregious benchmark was violations occurring after OFAC sent a cautionary letter to Epsilon in 2012.  After receiving the letter, OFAC alleged that Epsilon issued five invoices to Asra for products that Epsilon knew or had reason to know were intended for Asra’s resale in Iran.

Whatever the reason for Epsilon’s actions, even if a back-office mishap, the moral of the story is to treat OFAC’s cautioning not as a mere warning but as a pronouncement that OFAC is watching and there is a need to get your house in order.  A decision to continue with business as usual comes at a substantial risk unless a company can satisfy itself that what it is doing does not violate U.S. law.  That may be a tall order when OFAC has already informed you that it suspects violations have occurred.

A debate over OFAC’s adjectival use of “egregious” and “non-egregious” is not a matter of semantics.  Epsilon sold over $3.4 million worth of merchandise and now will be forced to pay that amount and over half a million more to the U.S. Government.  So, when OFAC gives you a yellow light, it’s best to slow down rather than speed up because OFAC has traffic cameras everywhere and your ticket will be in the mail.

Clif adds:  Another thing that accounts for OFAC’s fury and the mega-fine is that Epsilon had the temerity to challenge OFAC and file a response challenging OFAC’s Pre-Penalty Notice.  OFAC rejected Epsilon’s arguments summarily in the Penalty Notice, declining to reduce the proposed penalty by even a nickel.   Suffice it to say, OFAC was not amused by the extra work involved in responding to Epsilon’s objections.

The scarcely concealed ire by OFAC obscures an important issue.  What is at issue here are subwoofers and amplifiers used to pimp out cars in Iran, something that no doubt irks the mullahs and the Iranian government (presumably even more than it irks OFAC) as young Iranians cruise down the street blaring “Swagga Like Us.”   Whatever one may think of such behavior, one thing is certain: playing loud music in a car will not under any circumstances enrich uranium or detonate a nuclear device. Certainly Epsilon deserved a fine here but OFAC should have imposed one more in accord with subwoofers than centrifuges.

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Jul

24

Mugabe’s Scottish Castle in the Sky


Posted by at 6:16 pm on July 24, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsOFACSanctionsZimbabwe Sanctions

By User:Bigwikiaal (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEilan_Donan_Castle%2C_Scotland_2013-09-12_12-29.jpg

The Herald, a Mugabe mouthpiece owned by the Zimbabwean government, recently criticized former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in two articles for reported comments the UK made to justify the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe.  Referring to “illegal sanctions,” The Herald cited an article in the “Journal of African Studies” that quoted former South African president Thabo Mbeki as saying that UK officials told him, presumably sometime in the early 2000s, that Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe owned a Scottish castle and had UK bank accounts that the UK intended to freeze, only to allegedly tell Mbeki later that the UK could not locate the Scottish castle or the accounts but still intended to impose sanctions in any event. (Perhaps the UK momentarily confused Mugabe with Idi Amin who once offered to be the King of Scotland.)

The article in question appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Journal of Southern African Studies and was by Blessing-Miles Tendi a frequent writer on UK-Zimbabwe relations and lecturer at Oxford.  Professor Tendi did in fact cite to a discussion he had with Mbeki in 2011, during which Mbeki said that “Britain” and “Tony’s people” made such statements about Mugabe’s assets and that the British later admitted to finding no castle in Scotland or Mugabe accounts in the UK.  Tendi went on to describe a UK decision to freeze Mugabe’s assets as “devoid of rationality” inasmuch as the UK knew these assets did not exist.  (Interestingly, Tendi also asserts that Mbeki claims that British plans to invade Zimbabwe were thwarted by Mbeki’s decision not to let Britain use South Africa as a staging point for the invasion.)

Tendi and The Herald are misinformed about the UK sanctions.  In addition to freezing any current or future Mugabe’s assets in the UK, the sanctions also prohibit anyone from making any economic resources available to Mugabe or his co-sanctioned cronies.  If the UK believed that Zimbabwe was engaged in human rights abuses and suppression of democracy, as most countries and international organizations still believe, it would not be “devoid of rationality” to conclude that prohibiting financial assistance and freezing future assets are warranted to end such abuses and suppression.

Although Tendi and The Herald are misinformed as to the scope of UK economic sanctions law, the more important take-away from this curious vignette is the allegation that a country like the UK may have hastily taken to other countries its case for sanctions, even in small part, based on its own misinformation.  Imposing economic sanctions on identified targets are swift government decisions with immediate effects that are many times based on information that the target itself can’t readily confirm or deny.  The only administrative due process afforded to a foreign sanctions target in the United States is an “administrative reconsideration” of OFAC’s decision by … OFAC.  As we noted earlier this year, OFAC reconsiderations are no easy task and some petitioners are taking claims to U.S. courts to obtain removal from the SDN list.  Although Mugabe does not have a strong case for reconsideration and not likely to make one, other sanctions targets may, and should at least try, if the circumstances warrant.

 

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Jul

2

OFAC Gores Red Bull for Skateboarding in Havana


Posted by and at 6:45 pm on July 2, 2014
Category: Cuba SanctionsEconomic SanctionsOFACSanctions

Ryan Scheckler Skateboards in Havana via http://www.redbull.com/cs/Satellite/en_INT/Gallery/Ryan-Sheckler-shreds-Cuba-and-Panama-021242761792131#/image-12 [Fair Use]

Last Friday, OFAC announced that Red Bull North America, Inc. (“RBNA” or, when we’re feeling informal, “Red Bull”) agreed to pay $89,775 to settle allegations that “seven representatives” of RBNA traveled to Cuba in order to “film a documentary” in 2009 without OFAC authorization but with the approval of RBNA’s “management.”  RBNA is the U.S. subsidiary of Red Bull GmbH, the Austrian elder statesman of excessively caffeinated energy drinks.  Although OFAC provided no details about the film itself, it is likely a 2009 documentary, described by Red Bull here, which the company made about Ryan Sheckler skateboarding in Havana.  Apparently there is no place left in the world that is safe from skateboarders other than, perhaps, some interior stretches of Antarctica.

Of course, there is a general license for journalistic activities in Cuba, which would seem to cover making documentaries, as opposed to, say, filming Transfomers LVIII: The Final (And We Really, Really Mean It This Time) Apocalypse.  But OFAC’s general license is restricted to “persons regularly employed as journalists by a news reporting organization.”  As we’ve noted before OFAC has not applied this limitation in a consistent fashion, suggesting that Michael Moore wasn’t a journalist but Charlize Theron was. Although Red Bull seems quite active in the documentary business, OFAC apparently viewed them as simply a commercial marketing endeavor in a country where Red Bull is undoubtedly sold.  In fact, judging from the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series event held in Havana this May, a good amount of Red Bull is being consumed in Cuba.

In considering the penalty amount, OFAC said it determined and took into account that “RBNA did not voluntarily self-disclose” and that “RBNA had prior knowledge of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and took steps to conceal the transactions.”  Of course, we don’t quite understand how you conceal a documentary, particularly where Red Bull posted extensive information about it on the Internet, which is where OFAC likely discovered this transaction. On the other side of the equation, OFAC cited  RBNA’s institution of an OFAC compliance program, no other sanctions violation from 2004 to 2009 and the “non-egregious” nature of the violation.

We have over the past few years called attention to the confusion and lack of information in OFAC’s enforcement action announcements.  Last April, we highlighted what we thought was one of the more egregious “non-egregious” settlements that OFAC has announced.   The latest settlement with RBNA, furthers the confusion by imposing a fine on the low scale even after OFAC finds, albeit wrongly, that Red Bull concealed the documentary.

While OFAC makes up for its small-ish RBNA fine in its hefty enforcements against banks (à la the almost $1 billion settlement OFAC reached with BNP Paribas this week), most U.S. companies’ dealings with Cuba are going to be more on par with isolated occurrences like the one involving RBNA.  In the end, the RBNA settlement is good news for RBNA, its Red Bull parent and any other U.S. company in a similar situation.  If a U.S. company ever finds itself in the future before OFAC in an isolated situation like RBNA, the first thing to do is to pull out RBNA’s settlement announcement and try negotiating from there.

 

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Jun

23

Seeing Through the Smoked-Filled Rooms of Sanctions


Posted by at 6:37 pm on June 23, 2014
Category: Economic SanctionsGeneralOFACRussia SanctionsSanctionsSDN List

By Erifnam at en.wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AK_Street_NW_at_19th_Street.jpg

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported last week that lobbying records made public this month show the CEO and a lobbyist for Kinross Gold Corp., a Canadian gold mining company and one of the world’s largest, “have had numerous communications” with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign affairs policy adviser, Canada’s deputy minister of foreign affairs and the Canadian ambassador to Russia in order to discuss “policies and regulations related to the imposition of economic sanctions.”

With almost a third of Kinross’s global gold production reportedly coming from its two mines in Russia, Kinross has good reason to to try to find out, to the best extent possible, whether the Canadian government plans to impose sanctions relating to Russia that may affect Kinross business in that country.

Canadian sanctions against Russia, like U.S. and EU laws, involve prohibitions on dealings with targeted persons and give government authorities wide latitude to designate individuals and entities with essentially no public notice or consultation.  Under U.S. law, for example, OFAC can designate an SDN at any time without having to comply with public notice and review requirements imposed on almost all government agencies so long as the person meets the often broad criteria of a sanctions target under an executive order.

Moreover, OFAC deems any entity owned 50% or more by an SDN to be treated as an SDN itself.  As we previously reported, the so-called 50% rule has caused a variety of compliance conundrums relating to Russia as a few individuals, like Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, own major companies in many sectors of the Russian economy.  To boot, Kinross may have gotten understandably skittish when, south of the border, President Obama issued his latest Russian sanctions-related executive order in late March permitting imposition of sanctions on those operating in various sectors of the Russian economy, including metals and mining.  Under that criteria, Kinross itself might later be designated an SDN.

Sanctioning governments have, of course, reasons for their secrecy.  Intended targets can’t be announced prior to sanctions being imposed and, therefore, given a head start in transferring their property and money to safe haven countries.  But with little guidance and a lot at stake, Kinross has every reason to reach out to government officials to gain any clarity possible and do one’s best to make sure business can continue as usual or, if not, how to adjust its operations to comply with applicable laws.

Kinross is not alone.  U.S. federal lobbying records for this year’s first quarter are now publicly available.  For example, Coca-Cola, Xerox and Citgo are among the variety of companies that have reported lobbying efforts relating to sanctions against Russia.  Because sanctions against Russia weren’t imposed until the end of the first quarter in March, we expect to see disclosures in subsequent quarters from more companies involved in such efforts.

If there are smoke-filled rooms in economic sanctions, the smoke is mostly from government cigars (and maybe Cuban-origin for the Canadians).  The smoke arises where statutes, regulations and executive orders give government agencies dangerously broad discretion in identifying the sanctions targets and enforcing sanctions laws in ways that are not readily apparent from the laws themselves.

Future economic sanctions laws are not likely to be written any clearer.  Much of their effectiveness lies in not knowing who will be targeted and, as a result, the better chance there is that companies and individuals will police themselves in order to avoid possible violation.  In such an uncertain environment, finding people who can get as much information as possible from government officials enforcing sanctions will always be an invaluable resource.

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