Archive for the ‘Zimbabwe Sanctions’ Category



We Read the Zimbabwe Herald So You Don’t Have To

Posted by at 10:13 pm on October 13, 2015
Category: OFACZimbabwe Sanctions

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released (, VIRIN 090202-N-0506A-310) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
ABOVE: Robert Mugabe

The Zimbabwe Herald, the alleged newspaper and confirmed propaganda organ of the sanctioned Mugabe regime, is all excited by the launch of the China International Payment System (CIPS). The system, which was launched earlier this month, seeks to use SWIFT-formatted messages to facilitate cross-border payments in renminbi. Although the renminbi is the fourth most utilized currency for cross-border payments, it still only accounts for less than 3 percent of all such payments, making it doubtful that CIP will, at least any time soon, cause the renminbi to challenge the dollar, the euro or the pound sterling as an international currency.

So why are Mugabe’s minions so excited about CIPS? The headline says it all: China Unveils International Payment System – Checkmates Piracy of U.S. Treasury.” The image of OFAC flying a Jolly Roger over Treasury while the agency roams the seas, swigging rum and saying “Yo Ho Ho!” is, of course, a lively piece of propaganda right up there with that old chestnut “running capitalist dogs.” The story refers to sanctions on Zimbabwe as “illegal” no less than four times (for its slower readers) but fails to offer any theory of why exactly they are “illegal,” other than, I suppose, because Mugabe says so. (Dictators, naturally, have wide berth to say what is and isn’t legal.)

Of course, sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies and crony companies do make it difficult to engage in international trade given that the dollar constitutes about 45 percent of all such payments. Any dollar payment involving a sanctioned individual or company in Zimbabwe will be blocked the moment it hits a U.S. bank as it almost inevitably will. It’s doubtful that a renminbi payment system will provide any immediate or significant relief to Mugabe and company.

But I suppose everyone can dream, can’t they?  (I’m a Cubs fan, so I should know.)

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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 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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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The Best Question on Burma Sanctions Is Still Unanswered

Posted by at 6:28 pm on April 8, 2014
Category: Burma SanctionsCompliance Programs and ProceduresEconomic SanctionsGeneralOFACSDN ListZimbabwe Sanctions

By Bild von Stefan Grünig, CH-3752 Wimmis (de:Benutzer:Sgruenig)Sgruenig at de.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

OFAC announced last week that it issued additional Frequently Asked Questions and respective answers relating to what remain of U.S. sanctions against Burma.  None of the additional questions or answers is surprising or resolves an issue that is not otherwise answered by other OFAC guidance or applicable general licenses.

The questions and answers are, for the most part, a helpful recitation of the current landscape of sanctions involving Burma that summarize in one place the state of sanctions based on an assortment of scattered statutes, executive orders, regulations and licenses.  But one question stands out along with its non-responsive answer, in part, as follows:

What are the plans to update the SDN List for Burma?

Listings and any potential delistings under our Burma authorities will be pursued as appropriate to meet changing conditions in Burma.

The question itself has a colloquial quality to it as if the frequently asked question really put to OFAC has been along the lines of “What’s going on here?”

As other questions and answers describe, a number of banks remain on the SDN List but General License 19 authorizes U.S. persons to conduct most transactions with the banks.  In a similar situation about a year ago dealing with Zimbabwean banks, we posted about OFAC’s decision to keep those banks on the SDN List but, through a general license, to authorize almost all transactions with them.  At that time, I termed both the Burmese and Zimbabwean banks as SDN-lite designations and warned of the potential compliance difficulties such situations presented.

Keeping an entity on the SDN List would have the effect of blacklisting it from possible business with U.S. persons who rely solely on software to screen names on the SDN List to decide with whom to do business.  The results, of course, would create false positives because most transactions with these Burmese and Zimbabwean entities are permissible under U.S. law.  In fact, running these banks through OFAC’s SDN Search tool produces hits with no mention of any general license permitting dealings with them.

Delisting would, of course, be one option to correct the problem, but that would unblock any currently blocked assets, something OFAC might not wish to do.  Failing that, OFAC should at least put some annotation on the SDN List to denote that these very few entities are to be treated very differently than the thousands of others on the SDN List with whom U.S. persons may have no dealings.  At the moment, the question is back to OFAC, “What are the plans to update the SDN List?”

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Mugabe Lobbyists in U.S. Indicted

Posted by at 8:44 pm on August 27, 2013
Category: OFACZimbabwe Sanctions

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released (, VIRIN 090202-N-0506A-310) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
ABOVE: Robert Mugabe

One way to make sure someone is sentenced to life on the SDN list is to make it illegal for anyone to argue for removal of an SDN from the list. Of course, that would be blatantly unfair, you say, in a nation dedicated to due process and the rule of law. We would never do that. Well, think again.

Earlier this month, a federal district court in Illinois unsealed a criminal complaint filed against Prince Asiel Ben Israel and C. Gregory Turner. The two defendants are charged with violating U.S. sanctions by providing “lobbying services” to Mugabe and other Zimbabweans on the SDN list without a license from OFAC. The 55-page affidavit attached to the complaint describes a number of innocuous actions by the defendants who had been engaged to lobby of the removal of Mugabe and friends from the SDN list. These actions included speaking to U.S. legislators about the Zimbabwe-based sanctions and attempting to obtain a speaking engagement for a Zimbabwean official in the United States. Helping to arrange visas for Zimbabweans to travel to the United States was also singled out as one of the illegal activities by the defendants.

What is odd is that buried within the criminal complaint are activities that go far beyond lobbying and seem clearly to have stepped over the line, including efforts to set up a diamond mining joint venture with SDNs in the Zimbabwean government. It’s hard to understand why the prosecution would focus on and call out what most people would see as First Amendment activities when the government has a much more supportable, and much less controversial, case involving a proposed business venture with the officials in Zimbabwe.

The affidavit mentions that the defendants sought to obtain compensation for their services. However, there is no requirement under the sanctions regulations that services must be compensated to be illegal. Free services are still services and potentially covered by the sanctions.

To make sure that I don’t get indicted for writing this post, let me be clear: I think Mugabe is a terrible person who truly deserves his spot on the SDN list. Forever. And I think the same thing about his cronies on the list as well. Seriously. I’m not just saying this to stay out of trouble with the Feds. Still, if I thought otherwise, I should be able to say that without worrying about getting indicted.

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The Bad News Is You’re Still on the SDN List

Posted by at 6:37 pm on April 30, 2013
Category: Burma SanctionsEconomic SanctionsOFACSanctionsSDN ListZimbabwe Sanctions

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt/Released (, VIRIN 090202-N-0506A-310) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
ABOVE: Robert Mugabe

OFAC last week issued its first general license for U.S. sanctions relating to Zimbabwe. The license authorizes for the most part “all transactions involving Agricultural Development Bank of Zimbabwe and Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe.” Both banks, however, are on OFAC’s SDN List.

Since the two banks have been and remain on the SDN List, the license does not unblock the banks’ property interests that had been blocked as of the date of the license. OFAC issued a similar general license in February of this year authorizing dealings with four banks in Burma but kept the banks on the SDN List and continue to block the banks’ property interests blocked prior to the license. A major development from these licenses is, of course, giving U.S. exporters local banking options that were previously unavailable and without them likely stymied business development in those countries.

Exporters should also take note, however, of how OFAC’s easing of sanctions through these licenses has an onerous side-effect on U.S. companies. If a company’s policy is to determine whether to deal with entities or individuals based on their presence on the SDN List or other relevant sanctioned party lists, the authorization granted to deal with listed banks through these general licenses would go unnoticed. Exporters now must check all the lists they routinely do as well as stay on top of licenses issued by OFAC to know whether someone has, from most exporters’ perspectives, been in effect delisted.

If these SDN-lite designations continue, exporters will either need to monitor closely OFAC’s daily activity or make sure their screening software is doing so for them, at least if they want to be sure they are not unnecessarily limiting their export opportunities.

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