Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

In consultation with the Department of State and pursuant to Executive Order 13662, the Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) has updated Directive 4, which will expand sanctions on the Russian energy industry.

The new rules issued by OFAC prohibit certain activities by a U.S. person or within the United States, except where such activities are otherwise authorized by law or a license. The rules bar persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction from providing, exporting, reexporting (directly or indirectly) goods, services (except financial services), or technology in support of exploration or production for deepwater, Arctic offshore or shale projects that have the potential to produce oil in the Russian Federation, or in maritime area claimed by the Russian Federation and extending from its territory, and that involve any person determined to be subject to Directive 4.

Additionally, Directive 4 further prohibits the provision, exportation, or reexportation (directly or indirectly) of goods, services (except for financial services), or technology in support of exploration or production for deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects that meet all three of the following criteria: (1) the project was initiated on or after January 29, 2018; (2) the project has the potential to produce oil in any location; and (3) any person determined to be subject to Directive 4, including their property or interests in property, either has a 33% percent or greater ownership interest in the project or owns a majority of the voting interests in the project.

Examples of prohibited projects include, for example, drilling services, geological services, and mapping technologies. The prohibitions do not apply to the provision of financial services, for example, clearing transactions or providing insurance related to such activities.

The full text of Directive 4, as amended, can be found here.  For a listing of persons that are subject to a directive under Executive Order 13662, see OFAC’s Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List.

Recently OFAC also announced new sanctions on Russia’s financial sector and energy sector, as set forth in the revised Directive 1 and Directive 2, respectively.

On October 12, 2017, the United States lifted its general commercial embargo on Sudan. Because Sudan has played a role in international terrorism, the U.S. has maintained a comprehensive embargo against Sudan since 1997. These sanctions were contained in executive orders and the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR).

Following a 16-month diplomatic effort, the United States removed sanctions that had prohibited U.S. persons from engaging in or facilitating most transactions that involved Sudan or its government. U.S. persons may now engage in most transactions without the need for a general or specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

On January 17, 2017, the U.S. temporarily lifted sanctions with respect to Sudan and its government. OFAC issued a general license that temporarily authorized transactions prohibited by the SSR, which was contingent on the U.S. government’s determination regarding Sudan’s developments in key areas. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State provided a determination to President Trump that the government of Sudan has made positive development in the cessation of hostilities in conflict areas, improving humanitarian access throughout Sudan, and addressing regional conflicts and threats of terrorism.

Effective October 12, 2017, the temporary general license is no longer operable and OFAC authorization is not required for proposed transactions that were previously prohibited by the SSR, unless the proposed transaction implicates the Darfur Sanctions Regulations or other OFAC-administered sanctions regulations.

While most sanctions were lifted, significant restrictions remain in place for those seeking to trade with Sudan, primarily with respect to export controls and individuals and entities listed on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List). OFAC sanctions related to the conflict in Darfur still remain in place, and the revocation does not affect OFAC’s designations of any Sudanese persons pursuant to other sanctions authorities.

Additionally, this does not impact Sudan’s status as a state sponsor of terrorism. Pursuant to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), an OFAC license is still required for certain exports and reexports to Sudan of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices as a result of Sudan’s inclusion on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List (SST List).

General License A, which went into effect on October 12, 2017, authorizes exports and reexports of certain TSRA items to Sudan. General License A is available for review here. General License A replaces the need for any existing general or specific licenses currently issued to authorize conduct that was otherwise prohibited under the Sudan sanctions program.

U.S. persons are still required to comply with the export and reexport controls of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS). These requirements include restrictions that are maintained as a consequence of Sudan’s inclusion on the SST List and apply to certain exports and reexports of items on the Commerce Control List. BIS also maintains end-use and end-user controls on the export and reexport to Sudan of EAR99 items by U.S. persons and non-U.S. persons.

Despite lifting the general commercial embargo on Sudan, the sanctions revocation does not affect past, present or future OFAC enforcement actions related to violations of the SSR that occurred prior to January 17, 2017. Additionally, the revocation does not mean that sanctions cannot be quickly reimposed by the U.S.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a $415,350 settlement agreement with COSL Singapore Ltd. (“COSL”). The parties settled a potential civil liability claim for 55 apparent violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 560 (ITSR), which took place between October 2011 and February 2013.

COSL is a Singapore-based subsidiary of a Chinese oil field service company. It has several offshore drilling oil rigs and enters into charter agreements with third-party drilling companies to allow those parties to use its oil rigs.

Between October 2011 and February 2013, the procurement specialists for COSL purchased at least 55 orders of supplies from vendors located in the U.S. that were specifically intended for export or re-export to oil rigs located in Iranian territory. These purchases were made despite some warning from U.S. vendors that the goods should not be shipped or re-exported to countries subject to U.S. sanctions, including Iran.

OFAC determined that COSL used its own subsidiary companies, COSL Drilling Pan Pacific (Lbuan) Ltd. and COSL Drilling Pan Pacific Ltd., to export or attempt to export the oil rig supplies from the U.S. to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates before re-exporting or attempting to re-export the supplies to oil rigs located in Iranian territory.

COSL has agreed to pay $415,350 to settle potential civil liability, which is a lot less than what the potential liability could have been for COSL. The statutory maximum penalty amount for the apparent violations is $13,750,000, and the base penalty amount is $923,000.

OFAC considered aggravating and mitigating factors in determining the settlement amount. Some of the aggravating factors included: (1) COSL is a large sophisticated company doing business throughout the world; (2) COSL did not have an OFAC compliance program in place at the time of the transactions; and (3) OFAC determined that the exportation or re-exportation aided in the development of Iran’s energy resources.

The mitigating factors included: (1) COSL did not have any prior sanctions history; (2) COSL took remedial action by instituting an OFAC sanctions compliance program; and (3) COSL displayed substantial cooperation throughout the investigation process.

Companies that are involved in international trade and conduct business in the U.S. or with U.S. companies should have an OFAC compliance program in place. If companies are in a situation where they may have violated Iranian sanctions programs (or other U.S. sanctions programs), full cooperation with OFAC is essential.

Co-Author, Santos Ramos

On June 16, 2017, President Trump announced changes to United States’ Cuban sanctions regime which will stem the tide of liberalization that Obama Administration set in motion 2014. While the regulatory changes have not yet taken effect, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released updated its online resources to reflect the Trump Administration’s forthcoming changes.  Most notably, under the announced changes, individual “people-to-people” travel will no longer be permitted and any trade or business ventures involving Cuba’s military, intelligence and security services is strictly prohibited.

Travel

Trump Administration’s new Cuban travel policies crack down on the potential for individual ‘vacation’ travel to Cuba. Under the Obama Administration’s reforms to the Cuban sanctions, individuals could travel to Cuba as long as they affirmed that they were engaged in permitted activities, such as educational and artistic study, news reporting, or other endeavors designed to promote and aid the Cuban people.  Under the newly announced changes, individuals will no longer be able to travel to Cuba on their own for “people-to-people travel” (i.e., educational travel that does not involve any academic study towards the pursuit of a degree and is not under the auspices of an organization). Group people-to-people travel will still be permitted as long as the group is led by a U.S.-based organization and maintains a full-time schedule of educational or other permitted activities. Unfortunately for those who may have already booked their tickets to Havana, the new regulation will not be prospective, meaning that any travel that does not conform with the new regulations (even if previously planned) will be prohibited.

Trade and Business

Companies seeking to do business in Cuba will also have to navigate stricter regulations. While trade and business ventures with the Cuban government remained restricted under the Obama Administration’s revised sanctions, the new rules will more clearly delineate entities which are associated with Cuban military conglomerate Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA). GAESA, which is comprised of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services, has an extensive web of subsidiaries and ownership interests which some estimate touch as much as 60 percent of the Cuban economy. OFAC and Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will publish an extensive list of prohibited entities when the new regulations are completed. The new trade policy will be prospective, however, meaning that any contracts and licenses executed and issued prior to effective date of the new regulations will not be terminated.

What Should U.S. Companies Do?

U.S. companies which have already entered into contracts with a GAESA-related companies will be able to continue operating without any change. Any U.S. company seeking to begin or expand business in Cuba after the new policy takes effect, however, must heed the warning that any transaction with GAESA-related entities is prohibited. Moreover, while OFAC and BIS will strive to produce a comprehensive list of GAESA-related entities, it may prove to be a difficult and ever-evolving challenge.  Accordingly, despite any published list of entities, it will almost certainly remain the responsibility – and potential liability – of U.S. companies to know with whom they are conducting business. In addition, U.S. companies must be vigilant about any renewals of contracts or licenses with GAESA-related entities, as there has been little guidance as to whether renewing an existing contract will be considered continued operation or a new, prohibited engagement.

Last week the Trump administration announced new Iran-related sanctions imposed against 18 Iranian entities and individuals. The sanctions are the administration’s response to Iran’s ballistic missile program and destabilizing actions in the region.

The actions of the administration were taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery by freezing the assets of those proliferators, as well as E.O. 13581, which blocks the property of transnational criminal organizations.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) placed sanctions on individuals and entities for their support of the Iranian military and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and for engaging in international hacking efforts. The U.S. Department of State placed sanctions on entities for their involvement in ballistic missile research and development for the Iranian government.

These sanctions were announced only a day after the Trump administration recertified Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The JCPOA is a 2015 nuclear deal that was agreed to by the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.), the European Union (EU), and Iran, to ensure a peaceful nuclear program in Iran. The JCPOA offers Iran sanctions relief if it continues to curb its nuclear program and follow the timeline of requirements set forth in the JCPOA.

The JCPOA states that its participants anticipate that the “full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” However, the U.S. believes that the other actions taken by Iran undermine the positive contributions and goals of the JCPOA to bring about peace and security in the Middle East.

These new sanctions mean that Americans are prevented from doing business with these newly sanctioned entities and individuals. It also means that any assets these entities and individuals have in the U.S. will be frozen.

In a press release issued in connection with the announcement of the sanctions, the State Department also called upon Iran to release Baquer Namazi, Siamak Namazi, and Xiyue Wang, all of whom are U.S. citizens detained by Iran.

Despite the announcement of the new sanctions, the U.S. is still committed to complying with its commitments under the JCPOA, and Iran will continue to receive the same sanctions relief it received under former President Obama.

Last week, the D.C. Circuit affirmed the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (“OFAC”) wide latitude to impose Iran sanctions, but it set aside a $4.07 million penalty against car accessory seller Epsilon Electronics (“Epsilon”). The D.C. Circuit found that the agency cut too many corners in its investigation of Epsilon.

In July 2014, OFAC imposed the $4.07 million penalty on Epsilon, alleging that a series of shipments in 2012 by the company to Asra International Corporation, LLC in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (“Dubai Asra”) were destined for end-use in Iran. Sending products to Iran would violate the Iranian Transactions and Regulations. OFAC is authorized to impose civil penalties against individuals or entities who export to a third party who it has reason to know intends to send those goods to Iran.

The case dealt with the initial question of whether OFAC must prove that the goods ended up in Iran in order to hold the company liable for the breach of U.S. sanctions. The court determined that OFAC had enough evidence to support a finding that the first 34 shipments from Epsilon to Dubai Asra violated the sanctions. However, for the final five shipments, the court found that OFAC failed to explain why it discounted certain evidence and why the conclusion about the first 34 shipments applied to the last five, in light of the countervailing evidence presented. The evidence included several email exchanges between Epsilon’s sales team and Dubai Asra’s manager that indicated that the last five shipment were intended for a Dubai retail store and not Iran.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit remanded the case to the district court, with instructions to remand the matter to OFAC for further consideration of the alleged 2012 violations relating to the final five shipments, and calculation of the total monetary penalty imposed for all liability findings. While the court found that the government does not need to show that the goods actually ended up in Iran, the court did conclude that OFAC did not adequately explain its determination that Epsilon had reason to know that the goods would end up in Iran. Because OFAC failed to justify its conclusion that Epsilon should be held liable for the last five shipments as well as the first 34, the final liability determinations were deemed capricious and arbitrary.

The decision establishes key precedents related to trade compliance. The case shows that OFAC does not need to prove that the goods actually reached the sanctioned country in order to impose penalties. Additionally, the case shows that agency enforcement actions from OFAC can be subject to judicial review. This could lead to enhanced transparency between violators and the government imposing sanctions. For more information about the case, read the opinion here.

On Monday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) leveled one of the largest sanctions actions in OFAC’s history. OFAC sanctioned 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (“SSRC”).

According to OFAC, the SSRC is responsible for developing chemical weapons that were used against civilians by Syrian government forces earlier this month in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. OFAC has stated that these 271 designated individuals are scientists who have expertise in chemistry and related scientific disciplines and have supported the SSRC program since at least 2012. OFAC has stated that these individuals are working on developing chemical weapons for Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Because of the sanctions, U.S. persons are now generally prohibited from conducting business with these designated individuals. Any property or interest in property of the 271 individuals in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked. Additionally, U.S. banks have been ordered to freeze the assets of any employees that have been named.

The sanctions more than double the number of individuals and entities sanctioned by the United States pursuant to Syria-related Executive Orders.  These sanctions are intended to hold the Assad regime and those who support it accountable for the regime’s violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 2118.

 

On April 20, 2017 the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) offered new guidance for individuals and entities (and their counsel) who seek to have their names removed from OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN).

The guidance comes in the form of updates to OFAC’s Frequently Asked Questions and sets forth the procedures for petitioning for removal from the SDN list.  The petition itself appears quite simple.  In fact, the only requirements are that it include: (1) the name and contact information of the SDN; (2) the date of the relevant OFAC listing action; and (3) a “detailed description” of the reasons that individual or entity should be removed from the SDN list. Parties may also submit additional evidence or argument as to why the SDN designation is not appropriate.

While OFAC notes that all petitions are unique, OFAC announces a goal to send its first questionnaire within 90 days of receiving a petition.  The time a party takes to respond to the questionnaire (and any subsequent questionnaires) can, of course, significantly draw out the overall petition process.

Although individuals may submit their own petitions, hiring proper counsel is likely a wise decision.  Not only can knowledgeable counsel navigate the grounds on which OFAC is likely to remove a person from the SDN list (i.e., positive change in behavior, change in the basis for the designation, mistaken identity, or death), counsel can help ensure that information disclosures will comport with OFAC’s expectations (ideally limiting the number of follow-up questionnaires).

Counsel should be cautioned not to run afoul of OFAC’s sanctions regimes while representing an SDN.  Although there are general licenses under most of OFAC’s sanctions regimes permitting legal services to aid a person in contesting SDN status, restrictions on the origin of payments may complicate matters.

New clarity on the path off of the sanctions black list is encouraging evidence of OFAC’s commitment to ensuring that the SDN list encourages good behavior and is not a heavy-handed punishment.  While the reality of the petition process may not be as simple as the FAQ suggests, clear guidelines are a great aid to targeted individuals and their counsel.

Today the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) updated its Specially Designated Nationals List (“SDN List”). OFAC frequently updates the SDN List to add or remove names as necessary and appropriate.

The SDN List is a list published by OFAC that includes the names of individuals and companies owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, targeted countries. It also lists individuals, groups, and entities, such as terrorists and narcotics traffickers designated under programs that are not country-specific.

OFAC implements and imposes sanctions against those companies and individuals on the SDN List. Any US citizen, permanent resident alien, entity organized under the laws of the United States (including foreign branches), or any person (i.e., individual or entity) in the United States (collectively, “U.S. persons”) are generally prohibited from dealing with these companies and individuals, including transactions involving commerce, business, trade or finance. U.S. persons must block any property in their possession or under their control in which a company or individual on the SDN List has an interest.

When doing business with a foreign company or individual, it is important to access the SDN List to ensure that transactions with that foreign party are permissible. U.S. persons are expected to exercise due diligence in determining whether any such persons are involved in a proposed transaction. A failure to review the most up-to-date SDN List and review current sanctions can lead to serious consequences.

For more information on OFAC’s update and to review those added to the SDN List, please visit this page.  To review the current SDN List, click here.