Archive for the ‘Zimbabwe Sanctions’ Category



Zimbabwe’s Blocking Laws Lead to OFAC Fine

Posted by at 11:20 pm on February 9, 2016
Category: OFACZimbabwe Sanctions

Animal at Barclays by Gareth Milner [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Flickr [cropped]The Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced yesterday that Barclays Bank agreed to cough up $2,485,890 to settle charges that it dealt with parties blocked under the Zimbabwe sanctions. At issue were three parties that were not themselves on the SDN List but which “were owned, 50 percent or more, directly or indirectly, by” the Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe (“IDCZ”).  Because IDCZ was put on the SDN List in 2008, the three parties at issue were blocked under OFAC’s 50 percent guidance.

The OFAC announcement offers a confusing description of how and why Barclays did not determine that the entities at issue were owned by blocked parties and were therefore themselves blocked. The story, such as it is, starts with OFAC noting that “local restrictions precluded Barclays from implementing measures for complying with economic sanctions, including sanctions screening, in Zimbabwe.” Because Barclays in Zimbabwe was legally forbidden to screen customers, Barclays did the screening in London, using electronic information which the Zimbabwe Barclays maintained but which, for some reason, did not include information beyond the name of the customer. As a result, Barclay’s processed transactions for the three IDCZ-owned customers from 2008, when IDCZ was added to the SDN List, until 2012, when a U.S. financial institution in the chain of the transactions blocked four transfers involving one of the three blocked entities. Even after Barclays NY conducted an investigation and determined that the customer was blocked as a result of the 50 percent rule, Barclays in London failed to upload that information into its screening filter until after four more transactions involving that customer had been processed.

It seems clear that Zimbabwe’s blocking laws played more than a casual role in the inability of Barclays to determine that the customers at issue were blocked due to the ownership interest of IDCZ. This is the first I’ve heard of Zimbabwe apparently making it illegal to screen parties against the U.S. list but, not surprisingly, OFAC is not going to be bothered with local laws (as we’ve seen before). OFAC does say that these local laws make it a non-egregious case but that, of course, did not mean that Barclays would escape getting its knuckles thwacked for $2.5 million by the agency. Apparently OFAC believes that the road to hell is paved with non-egregious actions.

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Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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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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Copyright © 2015 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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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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Copyright © 2014 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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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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Copyright © 2014 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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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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Copyright © 2013 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
(No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)