OFAC Guidance Clarifies Application of Facilitation Doctrine to Legal Advice

Posted by at 11:32 pm on January 18, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

U.S. Treasury Department by Oran Viriyincy [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/ecNvDu [cropped]For many years, OFAC loved to toy with lawyers at conferences by rattling the facilitation sabre. Spokespersons for the agency would do so by suggesting that the day was coming when OFAC would go after lawyers under the facilitation doctrine, particularly when lawyers were providing advice to people that they were outside the scope of U.S. economic sanctions.

This was not an idle threat.  OFAC had tried this before.  Donald Looper, an American lawyer, had his briefcase seized by Customs as he returned to the United States after advising a Bermuda corporation on a proposed deal with Libya.  OFAC claimed that he was, by providing such advice, assisting his client in evading or avoiding sanctions.   Looper brought suit to prevent the examination of attorney-client privileged material in his briefcase.   The District Court had this to say about OFAC’s position:

[t]he Constitution certainly cannot abide the Kafkaesque interpretation that OFAC proposes–that the Libyan sanctions prohibit, at the whim of OFAC regulators, any effort to structure transactions with the purpose of complying with the remainder of the Libyan sanctions regulations, including any attempt to hire an attorney for guidance.

Ouch. Notwithstanding this smackdown, OFAC continued, at least informally, to caution attorneys that advice to clients might overstep the facilitation prohibition insofar as a lawyer might, in the language of the typical prohibition on facilitation, “approve … any transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by this part if performed by a United States person.”

Lawyers have typically attempted to negotiate this issue by trying to make sure that advice provided to non-U.S. persons that they were not covered by sanctions programs was not given in a way that could be characterized as approval of the transaction. This was a strategy, of course, that worked better for outside counsel than in-house counsel.

By a guidance released last week on January 12, OFAC finally put this issue to rest.

U.S. persons have been able to provide, and may continue to provide, the services below relating to the requirements of U.S. sanctions laws to covered persons: Opining on the legality of specific transactions under U.S. sanctions laws regardless of whether it would be prohibited for a U.S. person to engage in those transactions.

This statement, however, was immediately followed by an obtuse qualification:

U.S. persons may solicit information from [U.S. persons and non-blocked foreign persons] and conduct research to make a determination as to the legality of transactions under U.S. sanctions laws provided there is no importation of services where the importation of services is prohibited by any part of [OFAC’s regulations].

My best guess is this means that if a lawyer were, say, advising a German company on the legality under the Iran sanctions of a transaction by a German company in Iran, the U.S. lawyer could not query the counterparties in Iran (or their lawyers) about the scope of the transaction to make that determination. However, I’m not sure why that would ever be necessary. Comments from any readers on what this qualification might actually mean are welcome.

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Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.
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OFAC Expands Prohibitions on Re-Exports by Foreign Persons

Posted by at 4:16 pm on January 13, 2017
Category: Iran SanctionsOFAC

Aban Oil Rig via http://www.abanoffshore.com/downloads/DD1PL%20Investor%20Presentation%20231015.pdf [Fair Use]Yesterday the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced that it had levied a $17,500 fine against Aban Offshore Ltd. (“AOL”), an Indian oil rig company, because AOL’s subsidiary in Singapore arranged to have oil rig equipment, presumably U.S. origin although not stated as such, re-exported from Saudi Arabia to Iran. This was alleged to have been in violation of section 560.204 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”) which prohibits re-exportations from the United States to Iran.

The OFAC action is more than a little peculiar. Both AOL and it’s Singapore subsidiary are not U.S. persons and so it would seem that section 560.205 of the ITSR, which covers “reexportation of goods … by persons other than United States persons” would be the applicable provision. Of course, that section only penalizes re-exports of items that require a license from BIS for export to Iran. See § 560.205(a)(2). The oil rig equipment was almost certainly EAR99, although the OFAC document is oddly silent on this point, and would not have required a license under either sections 742.8 or 746.7 of the EAR.

It looks like what OFAC is doing here is pretending that section 560.205 does not limit section 560.204 at all. On its face, and without reference to section 560.205, section 560.204 prohibits re-exports by anyone, U.S. persons and non-U.S. persons alike, from the United States to Iran without regard to whether the item would require a BIS license. But if section 560.204 is intended to be read that broadly, there is no reason for section 560.205 to exist at all. It would simply be swallowed up by the breadth of section 560.204 rather than serve as a qualification of the scope of 560.204 for non-U.S. persons.

Granted agencies have broad latitude to interpret their own regulations, but that latitude does not go so far as to allow an agency to read one rule in a way as to render another rule absolutely meaningless.  As it stands, OFAC has read section 560.205 out of its rules and held that non-U.S. persons can now be held liable for re-exports of U.S. origin EAR99 items to Iran.


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Homeless Travel Blogger Advises Readers To Violate OFAC Rules

Posted by at 6:03 pm on January 10, 2017
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Ben Schlappig via http://onemileatatime.img.boardingarea.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/Ben-Schlappig-10bw-cropped-e1427813265841.jpg [Fair Use]
ABOVE: Ben “Lucky” Schlappig

A homeless blogger named Ben “Lucky” Schlappig, who makes his living flying on airplanes and staying in hotels, has decided to take up the practice of law along with advising fellow travelers on the intricacies of the airline and hotel reward programs. The result is pretty much what you would expect when Lucky opines on the legality of traveling to Cuba as a tourist.

Technically Americans can only travel to Cuba for one of about a dozen approved reasons. … In practice, most people traveling to Cuba as tourists choose either “Support For The Cuban People” or “People-To-People Exchanges” as the reason for visiting.

So technically you can’t go if tourism is your stated reasons [sic], though in practice there are tens of thousands of American tourists going. That’s because they keep the categories intentionally broad, and you won’t generally be asked about the details of why you’re going to Cuba. Arguably when you’re a tourist somewhere you have “people-to-people exchanges” and also “provide support” to the people.

Without hesitation I’d feel comfortable recommending people visit Cuba as tourists and just state one of those as the reasons.

Arguably, when you’re relying on a pretend lawyer, your mileage may vary.  Also, never trust anyone who goes by the name of “Lucky.”

Of course, OFAC anticipated that amateur lawyers like Lucky would say that all tourism in Cuba was inherently a people-to-people exchange, so it gave an example here, in the actual rules (which Lucky clearly did not bother to read), to put the kibosh on such silliness:

An individual plans to travel to Cuba to rent a bicycle to explore the streets of Havana, engage in brief exchanges with shopkeepers while making purchases, and have casual conversations with waiters at restaurants and hotel staff. None of these activities are educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba, and the traveler’s trip does not qualify for the general license.

So, just as you should not trust my opinions on how to get the most frequent flyer miles from your airline, you probably shouldn’t trust Lucky when he tells you to travel to Cuba as a tourist.

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Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

Posted by at 5:06 pm on January 9, 2017
Category: OFACSDN List

Washington DC Fireworks by Curtis Palmer [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Flickr https://flic.kr/p/5294FA [cropped] Regular readers of this blog are probably quite aware of my long-running crusade, dating back almost a decade, to free Daniel Garcia or, more accurately, to free people named Daniel Garcia from the stigma of sharing a name with someone on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Other posts on Daniel Garcia are here and here.

The impetus behind this crusade was that people named Daniel Garcia are routinely denied financial services because someone else named Daniel Garcia is on the SDN List. Worse, officials at OFAC admitted to me, anonymously of course, that no one at OFAC even knew who Daniel Garcia was or why he was on the list.

Well, Daniel Garcias of the world, rejoice! Last Friday, OFAC announced that it was removing the mysterious Daniel Garcia from the list, sans, of course, any explanation for the removal. Because no one at the agency was sure why he was designated, it couldn’t have found that Daniel Garcia had stopped doing whatever it was that got him on the list in the first place. OFAC couldn’t even say that Daniel Garcia was dead or alive or whether, like Schrödinger’s cat, he was both dead and alive at the same time.

No matter. All that counts here is the result. I hope that maybe I played a small part in this removal and in helping  the next guy named Daniel Garcia who tries to get a car loan  drive off the lot in a shiny new BMW.

Now we can focus our attention on Sally Jones.

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How the OFAC Gave Back Christmas

Posted by at 8:19 am on December 22, 2016
Category: Cuba SanctionsOFAC

Santa Flanked by F-16

Before leaving for the holidays, I thought it would be appropriate to repost the good news that we received earlier this year regarding Santa’s annual toy delivery being finally released from OFAC restrictions on his route.

MEDIA CONTACT: Elf E. McElfface, eemcelfface@gmail.com 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.

I hope all Export Law Blog readers are able to take some time off and enjoy the holidays with their family and friends. See you in 2017!

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