Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

Impact of President Trump’s Iran Policy Announcement: No Changes for Now, but the Future of the JCPOA Remains Uncertain

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Glen Kelley, Doug Jacobson, Michael Burton & David Brummond Jacobson Burton Kelley PLLC

www.jbktradelaw.com

On October 13, 2017 President Trump announced the long-awaited results of his Administration’s Iran policy review. The key aspect of the announcement was that President Trump will not renew certification of Iranian compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) as required by the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 (“INARA”), a law passed by the US Congress to provide oversight of the JCPOA. President Trump stated that his decision was made because Iran “has committed multiple violations of the JCPOA” and “has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement.”

President Trump also stated that he will “terminate” US participation in the JCPOA unless the parties to the JCPOA agree to make various changes to the JCPOA and that he will request the US Congress to modify INARA to reflect the Administration’s concerns. Following President Trump’s announcement, OFAC designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) as required by Congress in a law passed in August 2017. While there has been much discussion on the designation of the IRGC as a SDGT, in practice the designation was purely symbolic as the IRGC has been listed on OFAC’s Specially Designated National List since 2007 under various Executive Orders.

Though significant, these announcements do not trigger any changes in the status of the JCPOA or to existing US sanctions.

Following the President’s announcement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicated that staying in the JCPOA “was in the best interests of the US.” In addition, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker said yesterday that it “is important not to confuse the internal US legal process of certification under INARA with our continued implementation of the JCPOA.”

President Trump’s decision not to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA under Inara now shifts the burden to the US Congress, which could in the coming months reimpose some or all of the secondary sanctions on Iran that were waived on January 16, 2016 when the JCPOA was implemented. In addition, President Trump could in the future refuse to waive the secondary sanctions on Iran that remain suspended and could direct OFAC to terminate OFAC General License H.

While the US position on Iran should become clearer in the coming months, President Trump’s continued criticism of the JCPOA increases the uncertainty regarding (1) the future of US sanctions relief that was a key part of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and (2) whether non-US companies will continue to be able to conduct business with Iran without fear or being subject to US sanctions.

Increased Risk of US Withdrawal from JCPOA and “Snap-Back” of US Sanctions on Iran

It is important to recall that the US has suspended only a small portion of its Iran sanctions for US companies (relating to commercial aircraft), and “US persons” remain prohibited from nearly all transactions involving Iran or its government.

Nearly all of the suspended US sanctions were “secondary” sanctions primarily directed at non-US companies and individuals. The recent events increase the risk of reimposition or “snap-back” of US sanctions, which could be done in one of the following ways:

1. Reimposition of Sanctions Within Next 60 Days – Once the President fails to certify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, Congress can pass “qualifying legislation” under INARA in 60 days choosing to reimpose all or some of the Iranian sanctions that have been suspended. However, there does not appear to be significant interest by Congress to proceed in this direction at this time and it is not likely that the necessary votes can be obtained to proceed under this route.

2. Contingent Future Sanctions – Another scenario that is being contemplated by congressional leadership (the Corker-Cotton proposal) is to amend INARA to automatically reimpose US sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program in the future if Iran crosses key thresholds. Among the thresholds being considered is if weapons-grade nuclear material accumulates to the point where there is less than a one-year “breakout” period for obtaining a nuclear weapon.

3. Failure to Waive Suspended Sanctions – Under the JCPOA the President must waive the various sanctions that were suspended. Depending on the underlying law, these waivers must be renewed every 120 days to every six months. It is possible that the Trump Administration could simply choose not to renew one or more of the waivers, which would automatically reimpose the US sanctions. The next waiver deadline is in mid-January 2018. Such action would not require congressional approval and would effectively snap-back sanctions on Iran.

4. Unilateral Withdrawal from JCPOA – The JCPOA does not specifically authorize any party to the agreement to “withdraw.” However, the US could choose to cease implementing its commitments under the agreement, which would effectively lead to US abrogation of the JCPOA.

Next Steps and Practical Impact

Because the JCPOA is a multilateral arrangement, a decision by the US to withdraw from the agreement or to reimpose sanctions would have significant ramifications. Iran has threatened to stop complying with its commitments to curtail its nuclear program if the US reimposes sanctions. The costs of Iran’s reinitiating its nuclear program, however, could undercut the sanctions relief it has received from trading partners other than the US. The EU has made clear that if the suspended US sanctions are reimposed, the EU intends to continue to abide by the terms of the JCPOA so long as Iran does. If US sanctions are reimposed, the EU member states would likely support their companies in their Iranian activity and would strongly oppose any US government move to penalize them under reimposed sanctions. There is also the possibility that the EU would expand its sanctions blocking legislation (sometimes referred to in the EU as antiboycott laws) to cover US secondary sanctions on Iran. If Iran stopped complying with the JCPOA, the EU member states would likely withdraw their support for their companies’ activities in Iran, and might even move to the dispute resolution procedures of the JCPOA or a UN Security Council review, which could lead to the reimposition of EU sanctions.

While we are currently in uncharted waters and are dealing with an unpredictable US Administration, the following is a summary of the possible changes to impact on the JCPOA and US sanctions:

1. Incremental non-nuclear additional sanctions are likely, but the reimposition of the suspended US secondary sanctions or other major changes in the near future seem unlikely at this time. It is important to recall that there have been no immediate changes to US sanctions on Iran.

2. The Trump Administration could terminate US participation in the JCPOA and reimpose sanctions in the future, if insufficient progress is made with the parties to the JCPOA to address certain concerns relating to Iran. There are early indications that EU leaders might try to find a way to provide these additional assurances from Iran regarding their activities of concern.

3. The US could reimpose the suspended secondary (extraterritorial) sanctions. While appearing dramatic, this may not have much practical impact on many non-US companies. Moreover, if discreet secondary (extraterritorial) sanctions are “snapped-back”, it seems likely the EU and its member states would defend EU-based companies from the adverse economic consequences of a reimposition of sanctions.

4. If US sanctions are reimposed, there is reason to believe that Iran, after protesting, would continue to abide by its JCPOA commitments, particularly if it remains clear that the EU and other countries involved in the JCPOA intend to continue to abide by its terms and authorize business with Iran. Of course it is possible that Iran would follow through on its threat to pull out, and this likely would have a more dramatic practical impact.

Whatever the outcome, the OFAC policy that authorizes the export of US-origin humanitarian products to Iran, including medicine, medical devices, and agricultural products, will remain unchanged, just as it was during the height of US sanctions. However, payments for these transactions remains difficult due to the reluctance of many non-US banks to handle Iran-related payments.

US Citizen CEO Sentenced to 57 Months in Prison for Conspiring to Export Specialty Metals to Iran

Monday, October 16th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Ashleigh Foor

On Friday, September 8, 2017, Erdal Kuyumcu, a US citizen and the chief executive officer of Global Metallurgy, LLC, based in Woodside, New York, was sentenced to 57 months in prison for conspiring to export specialty metals to Iran. The sentencing took place at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York and proceedings held before Chief United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry. In June 14, 2016, Kuyumcu plead guilty to conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by exporting specialty metals from the United States to Iran.

According to court documents, Kuyumcu conspired to export from the United States to Iran a metallic powder primarily composed of cobalt and nickel, without having obtained the required license from the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It was determined after a two-day presentencing evidentiary hearing that the metallic powder has potential military and nuclear uses. In order to prevent nuclear proliferation and terrorism, the US Department of Commerce requires a license to export and exporting without the required license is illegal.

In addition, Kuyumcu and others planned to obtain more than 1,000 pounds of the metallic powder from a US-based supplier, and hid the true destination of the goods by having it shipped first to Turkey and then to Iran. Coded language was used to keep this all secret, for instance, referring to Iran as the “neighbor.”  Once a shipment was sent from Turkey to Iran, a steel company in Iran would send a letter-sized package to Kuyumcu’s Turkey-based co-conspirator.

The Iranian steel company had the same address as an OFAC-designated Iranian entity under the Weapons of Mass Destruction proliferators’ sanctions program that was associated with Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Expanded Russia, Iran, and North Korea Sanctions: Top 10 Takeaways

Monday, October 16th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

(Source: Latham & Watkins LLP)

Authors: Les P. Carnegie, Esq., les.carnegie@lw.com, 202-637-1096; and William M. McGlone, Esq., william.mcglone@lw.com, 202-637-2202

President Trump signs the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which – among other measures – requires Congressional review to ease Russia-related sanctions.

On Wednesday, August 2, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (the Act). The Act significantly expands and codifies US sanctions targeting Russia, and it adds several measures to the already comprehensive US sanctions on Iran and North Korea. The Act passed both houses of Congress last week, with a vote of 419-3 in the House of Representatives and 98-2 in the Senate.

The Act is particularly significant because it codifies many of the Russia-related sanctions measures introduced by President Obama through executive orders, effectively requiring President Trump to secure Congressional approval before easing the targeted US sanctions relating to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to impose retaliatory sanctions in response to the Act, and the Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly ordered a more than 60% cut in US diplomatic staff and suspended use of two US facilities in Russia.

Here are the top 10 takeaways from the Act:

RUSSIA-RELATED SANCTIONS

(1) Codifying and Expanding Existing Sanctions.

The Act codifies the following Executive Orders issued by President Obama: Executive Orders 1366013661136621368513694, and 13757. Among other measures, these Executive Orders imposed a virtual embargo on the Crimea region of Ukraine; imposed sanctions against perpetrators of malicious cyber activity and designated Russian and Ukrainian individuals, including government officials and oligarchs; and provided the underlying authority for Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Directive 1Directive 2Directive 3, and Directive 4.

The first three OFAC Directives prohibit US persons from extending medium- to long-term credit, or otherwise dealing in “new” debt (and in some cases “new” equity), of designated Russian financial institutions, energy firms, and companies in the defense sector. Directive 4 prohibits US persons from providing goods, software, technology, and services in support of certain non-conventional oil projects in Russia.

The Act expands certain of these Executive Orders and Directives:

* The Act gives the US Treasury Secretary the power to impose sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13662, including the financing-type sanctions found in the OFAC Directives, against state-owned parties in Russia in the railways, metals, and mining sectors of the Russian economy. Prior to the Act, the targeted sectors were limited to the financial, energy, and defense sectors.

* No later than 60 days after enactment of the Act (or approximately the beginning of October), the US Treasury Secretary must modify Directive 1 to reduce the “new” debt prohibition to 14 days, down from the current 30 days, and Directive 2 from the current 90 days to 60 days. These 14-day and 60-day changes will be effective 60 days after the Directives are modified, which provides some time for US parties to adjust to this change. Notably, current OFAC interpretation (see OFAC FAQ # 419) is that extending payment terms of more than 30 days to a Directive 1 target violates the “new debt” prohibition, meaning that payment terms to Directive 1 parties will need to be reduced to no more than two weeks. The same is the case with respect to Directive 2 targets, for which the payment term requirement will be reduced to 60 days.

– The Act also requires the US Treasury Secretary to, within 180 days of enactment, submit to Congress a report “describing in detail the potential effects of expanding sanctions under Directive 1 … to include sovereign debt and the full range of derivative products.”

* No later than 90 days after the Act’s enactment (or approximately the beginning of November), the US Treasury Secretary must modify Directive 4, to prohibit US persons not only from providing goods, services (other than financial services), and technology to projects in Russia relating to the exploration or production for oil for deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects, but to such projects anywhere in the world. Notably, the Directive’s expansion appears to reach non-conventional exploration and production beyond Russia, applies only to “new” deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects, and only those projects where the Directive 4 target “has a controlling interest or a substantial non-controlling ownership interest in such a project defined as not less than a 33 percent interest.”

– This “new” and “substantial non-controlling ownership interest” language was added by the House to the Senate version, in an attempt to ease concerns raised by US energy firms and European allies regarding the breadth of the provision. This new provision will be effective 90 days after the US Treasury Secretary modifies Directive 4.

(2) Congressional Oversight of the President’s Russia-Related Actions.

Notably, the Act gives the US Congress the opportunity during a 30-day review period to disapprove of any effort by the President to reduce, waive, or eliminate US sanctions relating to Russia. Section 216 of the Act gives Congress the power to review (i) any action to terminate the application of the sanctions in the Act, the codified Executive Orders mentioned above, and certain other statutes; (ii) any action to waive the application of sanctions targeted at certain persons, such as parties added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list (SDN List) or the List of Sectoral Sanctions Identifications parties (SSI List), or (iii) any “licensing action that significantly alters United States’ foreign policy with regard to the Russian Federation.”

(3) Energy Pipeline Secondary Sanctions.

The Act gives the President the power to impose, but does not require, secondary sanctions on foreign persons that knowingly (i) make an investment of US$1 million or more (or US$5 million or more over a 12-month period) that directly and significantly contributes to enhancing Russia’s ability to construct energy export pipelines or (ii) sell, lease, or provide to the Russian Federation, goods, services, technology, information, or support (valued at US$1 million or more, or during a 12-month period with an aggregate value of US$5 million or more) that could directly and significantly facilitate the maintenance or expansion of the construction, modernization, or repair of energy pipelines.

* The Act appears to require the President to impose any such sanctions “in coordination with allies of the United States.” This language was added to the House version of the Act in response to concerns raised by European allies, in light of such projects as the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

(4) Cybersecurity Sanctions.

On or after 60 days of enactment, the Act requires the President, subject to a national security interest waiver, to impose asset-blocking as well as travel sanctions, including certain secondary sanctions, on any person who knowingly engages in significant activities that undermine the cybersecurity of any person or government, including a democratic institution, on behalf of the Russian government. Any national security interest waiver submitted by the President to avoid the imposition of sanctions must be accompanied by a certification that the Russian government has “made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions conducted by that Government.” The Act includes a definition of what constitutes “significant activities undermining cybersecurity,” which includes, among other activities, significant destructive malware attacks.

(5) Secondary Sanctions Targeting Certain Activities Relating to Russian Intelligence and Defense Sectors, Sanctions Evaders, and Privatizations.

The Act requires the President to impose secondary sanctions on those (including non-US persons) who he determines:

* Have knowingly engaged in a significant transaction with “a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation, including the Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation or the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation.” Secondary sanctions are to be imposed 180 days after enactment of the Act. The Act requires the President to issue guidance or regulations no later than 60 days after the date of the Act’s enactment to “specify the persons that are part of, or operate for or on behalf of, the defense and intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.”

* Are responsible for, complicit in, or have supported serious human rights abuses in any territory forcibly occupied or otherwise controlled by the Russian government. The Act also requires sanctions on foreign persons that (i) knowingly have materially violated, attempted to violate, or conspired to violate or caused a violation of US sanctions or the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, or (ii) “facilitates a significant transaction or transactions, including deceptive or structured transactions” for or on behalf of a person that is a target of US sanctions, or for that person’s child, spouse, parent, or sibling.

* With actual knowledge make an investment of US$10 million or more (or any combination of investments not less than US$1 million each, which in the aggregate equals or exceeds US$10 million in a 12-month period), or facilitate such an investment, if the investment “directly and significantly” contributes to the ability of the Russian government to “privatize state-owned assets in a manner that unjustly benefits” Russian government officials or “close associates” or family members of those officials. The Act does not define the terms “investment,” “unjustly benefit,” and “close associates.”

(6) Sanctions Targeting Crude Oil Projects and Corruption.

The Act limits the discretion of the President under the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 by requiring the President to impose secondary sanctions on a foreign person that knowingly makes a “significant investment” in a “special Russian crude oil project” as well as foreign financial institutions that support such investments. The Ukraine Freedom Support Act does not define the term “significant investment” and defines a “special Russian crude oil project” to be a crude oil extraction project in Russian deepwater (i.e., more than 500 feet deep), Arctic offshore locations, or shale formations. The President can waive the imposition of such secondary sanctions by invoking a national interest waiver.

* The Act also limits the President’s discretion under the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, requiring him to impose secondary sanctions against a Russian government official or close associate or family member involved in an act of significant corruption in Ukraine, Russia, or elsewhere.

(7) Sanctions Relating to Support for the Syrian Government.

The President is required to impose asset-blocking and travel sanctions on any person determined by the President to have knowingly exported, transferred, or otherwise provided significant financial, material, or technological support to the Syrian government in acquiring or developing advanced conventional weapons, ballistic, or cruise missile capabilities, as well as biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and related technologies.

(8) Secondary Sanctions Described.

The so-called “secondary sanctions” described in the Act target the activities of non-US persons. These secondary sanctions can be applied to parties beyond the jurisdiction of the United States, and they effectively take the form of a denial of US benefits, as opposed to monetary penalties available under US “primary” sanctions (which apply to US persons).

* In the context of the Act, the menu of secondary sanctions from which the President can select (generally, he must select up to five) includes the following:

– Denial of export-import bank financing and assistance

– Denial of US export licensing

– Prohibition against US financial institution making loans or providing credits of more than US$10 million in any 12-month period

– Use of US government power to oppose a loan from a non-US financial institution to the sanctioned party

– Denial of US Government procurement

– Prohibition against transactions in foreign exchange that are within US jurisdiction

– Prohibition against transfers of credit or payments between financial institutions or by, through, or to any financial institution, if within US jurisdiction

– For foreign financial institutions, (i) loss of designation as a primary dealer in US Government debt instruments by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and/or (ii) revocation of right to serve as an agent of the US Government or to serve as repository for US Government funds

– Effect on the property rights of sanctioned persons for property within US jurisdiction (i.e., asset blocking similar to those on OFAC’s SDN List)

– Prohibition against US persons investing in or purchasing significant amounts of equity or debt instruments of the sanctioned persons

– Travel prohibitions directed at corporate officers, principals, or controlling shareholders or principal of, or a shareholder with a controlling interest in

– Placement of any of these secondary sanctions on the principal executive officer or similar officers of the sanctioned person

IRAN

Largely in response to Iran’s ballistic missile tests, the Act imposes new sanctions targeting Iran’s defense sector and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

(9) Asset-Freezing and Terrorism-Related Sanctions.

The Act requires the President to impose asset-freezing sanctions (and for non-US persons, a travel ban) against any US or foreign person that knowingly engages “in any activity that materially contributes to the activities of the Government of Iran with respect to its ballistic missile program” or programs to develop, deploy, or maintain weapons of mass destruction. Subject to his exercise of a national security interest waiver, the President must also impose asset-freezing sanctions (and for non-US persons, a travel ban) against any US or foreign person who knowingly contributes to the “supply, sale, or transfer” to Iran of “battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems … or related materiel, including spare parts.”

* The Act also requires the President to impose the same sanctions on those who knowingly provide “technical training, financial resources or services, advice” or other services in supporting the use of the material listed. 90 days after the Act’s enactment, the President must impose terrorism-related sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against the IRGC and its “officials, agents or affiliates.” Notably, significant transactions with the IRGC can already subject non-US persons to US secondary sanctions, which survived the implementation of the Nuclear Agreement with Iran in January 2016.

NORTH KOREA

Largely in response to North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4, 2017, the House of Representatives recently introduced certain North Korea-related provisions to the Act. Among other measures, the Act requires the US Secretary of State to provide Congress, within 90 days of enactment, a determination as to whether North Korea should be considered a state sponsor of terrorism.

(10) Additional Designation Authority and Human Rights Provisions.

The Act broadens the list of persons the President must impose asset-blocking measures under the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (NKSPEA). These additional targets include those who knowingly procure certain precious metals from North Korea; sell or transfer rocket, aviation or jet fuel to North Korea; provide fuel or supplies for designated North Korean vessels or aircraft; provide insurance services to vessels owned or controlled by the North Korean government; or maintain a correspondent account with any North Korean financial institution.

* The Act also expands the President’s discretionary authority to designate parties under the NKSPEA, including parties who knowingly acquire coal, iron, or iron ore from the North Korean government; purchase significant amounts of textiles from North Korea; or sell or transfer significant amounts of crude oil, condensates, petroleum products, or natural gas resources to the North Korean government, among other activities. Under the human rights-related provisions, the Act prohibits most goods produced by North Korean labor from entering the US and allows for the imposition of sanctions on most parties who knowingly employ North Korean labor.

* These new North Korea sanctions presumptively increase the prospects of designations of parties from China in the coming weeks.

CSE Global Limited and CSE TransTel Pte. Ltd. Pay Settlement for Apparent Violations Involving Iranian Companies

Monday, October 16th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Ashleigh Foor

A solely-owned subsidiary of CSE Global Limited (an international technology group), CSE TransTel Pte. Ltd., appears to have violated § 1705 (a) of IEEPA and § 560.203 of the ITSR and has agreed to pay a $12,027,066 settlement for the apparent 104 violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act 1 (IEEPA) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560 (ITSR). The apparent violations occurred on or around June 4, 2012 through March 27, 2013 when TransTel appears to have involved at least six different financial institutions in the unauthorized exportation or re-exportation of services from the United States to Iran, a prohibition of § 560.204 of the ITSR.

OFAC concluded that TransTel did not voluntarily make known these apparent violations, which OFAC found to be grounds for a serious case. The maximum and base civil monetary penalty for the apparent violations was $38,181,161.

TransTel first signed contracts with and received purchase orders from Iranian companies starting August 25, 2010 through November 5, 2011. The purchase orders were for multiple energy projects taking place in Iran and/or Iranian territory. In order to carry out the orders to deliver and install telecommunications equipment, TransTel hired several Iranian companies to deliver these goods and services on its behalf.

Preceding these interactions with Iranian companies, CSE Global and TransTel opened separate Singapore bank accounts (the “Bank”). Then-Managing Director and CSE Global’s then-Group Chief Executive Officer signed and sent a letter titled “Sanctions – Letter of Undertaking” to the Bank with the following statement: “In consideration of [the Bank] agreeing to continue providing banking services in Singapore to our company, we, CSE TransTel Pte. Ltd … hereby undertake not to route any transactions related to Iran through [the Bank], whether in Singapore or elsewhere.”  The Bank continued to provide financial services to the company after receiving the Letter of Undertaking and around June 2012, less than two months after the Letter of Undertaking was delivered, TransTel began transferring USD funds related to its Iranian business.

On or around the dates of June 4, 2012 to March 27, 2013 Transtel appears to have violated § 1705 (a) of IEEPA and/or § 560.203 of the ITSR when it initiated 104 USD wire transfers totaling more than $11,111,000 involving Iran. Transfers from the Bank went to several different third-party contacts including Iranian vendors. There was never any mention of Iran, the Iranian projects, or any Iranian parties on documentations involved in these transactions.

The settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following facts and circumstances, pursuant to the General Factors under OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, 31 C.F.R. part 501, app. A. OFAC considered the following to be aggravating factors:

(1) TransTel willfully and recklessly caused apparent violations of U.S. economic sanctions by engaging in, and systematically obfuscating, conduct it knew to be prohibited, including by materially misrepresenting to its bank that it would not route Iran-related business through the bank’s branch in Singapore or elsewhere, and by engaging in a pattern or practice that lasted for 10 months;

(2) TransTel’s then-senior management had actual knowledge of – and played an active role in – the conduct underlying the apparent violations;

(3) TransTel’s actions conveyed significant economic benefit to Iran and/or persons on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons by processing dozens of transactions through the U.S. financial system that totaled $11,111,812 and benefited Iran’s oil, gas, and power industries; and

(4) TransTel is a commercially sophisticated company that engages in business in multiple countries.

 

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:

(1) TransTel has not received a penalty notice, Finding of Violation, or cautionary letter from OFAC in the five years preceding the date of the earliest transaction giving rise to the apparent violations;

(2) TransTel and CSE Global have undertaken remedial steps to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions programs; and

(3) TransTel and CSE Global provided substantial cooperation during the course of OFAC’s investigation, including by submitting detailed information to OFAC in an organized manner, and responding to several inquiries in a complete and timely fashion.

This enforcement action reflects compliance obligations for all companies that conduct business in OFAC-sanctioned jurisdictions or process transactions through or related in any way to the United States. Prior to signing agreement letters, representatives should be certain they and their company are willing and able to abide by rules set forth.

Illegal Exporting of IED Components Lands Singapore Native in Prison

Thursday, June 8th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Ashleigh Foor

Illegal exporting of goods lands Singapore native, Lim Yong Nam (aka Steven Lim), 43, in a lot of trouble. Forty months in prison kind of trouble to be exact. On December 15, 2016 Lim plead guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the US.

The conspiracy involved Lim’s and others’ involvement in the shipment of thousands of radio frequency modules from a Minnesota-based company to Iran.  The frequency transmitting technology used in these modules is related to that which connects office computers and printers wirelessly. The same technology is also used for remote detonation systems. Connected with the right antenna, the wireless capabilities can stretch 40 miles. But this technology was not shipped with the intention of setting up networks in an office building. Of the 6,000 modules shipped from Minnesota to Iran, 14 were later found in Iraq in unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs). According to case files, IEDs were the main source of American casualties in Iraq from 2001-2007.

Charges were first filed against Lim in June 2010, when he plead guilty to falsifying documents and breaking US law in order for 6,000 modules to ship from Minnesota to Singapore and finally to Iran through 5 shipments.  Lim admitted that he and his co-conspirators were aware of US restrictions on shipments to Iran and made false statements to indicate Singapore as the final destination.

After reaching Singapore, these shipments were combined with other electronic devices and stored with a freight forwarding company before being re-exported to Iran. There is no evidence of Lim having any physical contact with the modules.

From 2008 to 2009 several of these modules originating from Minnesota were found in Iraq being used for the remote detonation system for IEDs. With US request for extradition, Indonesia detained Lim in 2014. After being extradited to the US in 2016, Lim plead guilty to charges of conspiracy against the US and will be deported after his sentence.

Interestingly, the Minnesota supplier has not been charged for any violations related to the exports in question.

Company Fined $500K for 56 ITSR Violations by OFAC

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

United Medical Instruments, Inc. (UMI) agreed to a settlement of $515,400 with the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) based on 56 alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (31 C.F.R. Part 560). Between 2007 and 2009 it was found that UMI sold medical imaging equipment with knowledge that the goods were going to be reexported from the United Arab Emirates to Iran. The total value of the goods associated with the transactions was approximately $2,493,597.

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:

  1. The alleged violations occurred due to the actions of a single UMI employee rather than a systemic pattern of company-wide conduct;
  2. UMI took remedial action in response to the alleged violations, including by voluntarily ceasing transactions involving Iran and by implementing new procedures and updating its compliance program to prevent the recurrence of similar sanctions violations;
  3. UMI has not received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation from OFAC in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions giving rise to the alleged violations;
  4. UMI cooperated with OFAC’s investigation by providing timely responses to OFAC’s correspondence and by entering into multiple statute of limitations tolling agreements; (5) UMI is a small business, as determined by the size standards set forth by the Small Business Administration; and (6) based on the financial condition of UMI, including significant financial difficulties experienced by the company in recent years, additional mitigation is warranted.

Settlement: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20170228.aspx

OFAC Radically Expands Its Extraterritorial Jurisdiction with B Whale Ruling

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: R. Clifton Burns, Esq., Bryan Cave LLP, Wash DC, Clif.Burns@bryancave.com, 202-508-6067

(Source: Export Law Blog. Reprinted by permission.)

The recent decision by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) to issue a finding of violation, but no fine, against B Whale, a member of the Taiwanese TMT Shipping Group represents a new high (or low, depending on your point of view) for OFAC’s general belief that it has jurisdiction over anyone anywhere in the world.  At issue was the transfer of Iranian oil from an Iranian vessel in international waters to a Monrovian-registered Liberian-flag ship owned by a Taiwanese company without any branches or business operations in the United States.

OFAC claimed that this was an illegal importation of Iranian goods into the United States in violation of section 560.201 of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”).  Say what?  According to OFAC, the foreign flagged ship in international waters became a part of the United States once TMT filed a bankruptcy petition in the United States, thereby placing all its assets under the control of the bankruptcy court.  Because, you see, the ITSR defines the United States in section 560.307 of the ITSR as “the United States, its territories and possessions, and all areas under the jurisdiction or authority thereof.”  I imagine that TMT, and probably the government of Taiwan, will be somewhat surprised to learn that real property owned by TMT in Taipei is now a part of the United States.  By this logic, a bankrupt’s trucks in foreign countries would become “areas” under the jurisdiction of the United States.  Certainly these absurd results demonstrate that “area” in section 560.307 means geographic areas and not simply any physical space somewhere in the world.

I am unable to find any precedent from OFAC itself or any other court or agency for such an expansive definition of the United States   Interestingly, Congress, when defining the scope of federal criminal law, stops far short of OFAC’s definition.  The definition of “United States” in the federal criminal code is defined as “all places and waters, continental or insular, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, except the Canal Zone.” See 18 U.S.C. § 5.  To cover ships, which are not “places and waters, continental and insular” the federal criminal codes defines the “special maritime and territorial jurisdiction” of the United States which covers ships on the high seas owned by at least one U.S. citizen or a foreign vessel with a scheduled departure or arrival in the United States “to the extent permitted by international law.”  See 18 U.S.C. § 7.  Ships owned by bankrupts aren’t either the United States or part of the special maritime jurisdiction as far as Congress was concerned.  It is hard to imagine that OFAC has the statutory authority to expand the scope of its jurisdiction in this fashion by calling every asset of a bankrupt anywhere on the face of the planet a part of “the United States.”

Not only does OFAC stretch the concept of “United States” beyond the breaking point, but also it does the same thing to the definition of “United States person.”  Whale B was found to have violated section 560.211 when it engaged in a transaction with a blocked Iranian vessel.  The violation occurred because OFAC decided that Whale B was a “United States person.” That term is defined in section 560.314 to cover a “person in the United States.”  And Whale B, a company organized under the laws of Taiwan and without any physical presence in the United States, was “in the United States” because it filed a bankruptcy case in the United States. It’s difficult to imagine where a principled limit could be drawn if filing a lawsuit in the United States means that a company is “in the United States.”  Is a company with a U.S copyright registration now “in the United States” and fully subject to U.S. sanctions? What if it has a dot com domain name issued by a U.S. registrar? Or it uses an email service that has servers in the United States?  Or it has a pending sales order it made with a U.S. company over the Internet?

And here’s one last comment on the B Whale shipwreck.  OFAC cites this as an aggravating factor: B Whale “took steps to conceal a ship-to-ship transfer of Iranian oil with an Iranian vessel on the SDN List … by … switching off the vessel’s automatic identification system during the time period corresponding with the ship-to-ship transfer.”  Apparently OFAC forgot that, because of the TMT bankruptcy, Whale B was subject to seizure and detention by foreign creditors in jurisdictions not interested in observing the automatic stay arising from the U.S. bankruptcy.  In such a situation, the more likely reason for turning off the AIS was the common practice of doing so to hide from foreign creditors, not from OFAC.

US Oil & Gas Company Fined $25 Million from BIS & OFAC

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016 by Danielle McClellan

National Oilwell Varco, Inc., a Delaware corporation, and its Canadian subsidiaries, Dreco Energy Services, Ltd (Dreco) and NOV Elmar (NOV) have agreed to pay a combined $25 Million for violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations.

The charges are as follows:

  • Between 2002 and 2005, National Oilwell Varco approved four Dreco commission payments to a UK based entity related to the sale and exportation of goods from Dreco to Iran. The four commission payments had a combined value of $2,630,091.
  • Between 2006 and 2008 National Oilwell Varco was involved in two transactions involving the sale and exportation of goods to Iran that totaled $13,596,980.
  • Between 2003 and 2007, Dreco knowingly exported (indirectly) goods from the US to fill seven orders from Iranian customers. The transactions totaled $526,480.
  • During 2007 and 2009, Dreco engaged in 45 transactions involving the sale of goods to Cuba totaling $1,707,964.
  • NOV engaged in two transactions between 2007 and 2008 involving the sale of goods or services to Cuba that totaled $103,119.
  • Finally, between 2005 and 2006 NOV engaged is a $20,928 transaction involving the exportation of goods from the US to Sudan.

OFAC considered the violations to be egregious since senior-level executives approved the commission payments and the NOV “willfully blinded” itself of the regulation violations by continuing to approve payments and communications. NOV will pay OFAC a settlement of $5,976,028, this will be deemed satisfied with its payment of $25,000,000 in relation to its settlement agreement between OFAC, BIS, and a Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA).

OFAC considered the following to be aggravating factors:

  1. NOV’s conduct that gave rise to the Apparent Violations demonstrated at least reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements;
  2. Senior managers at National Oilwell Varco, Inc. and Dreco knew or had reason to know that their respective business transactions giving rise to the ITSR-related apparent violations involved Iran;
  3. NOV’s conduct caused harm to sanctions program objectives by providing a significant and sustained economic benefit to the petroleum industries in Cuba, Iran, and Sudan;
  4. NOV is a large and sophisticated company that is engaged in the business of providing oilfield services around the world, including regions with high sanctions risk; and
  5. NOV’s compliance program at the time of the Apparent Violations was wholly inadequate.

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:

  1. NOV had not received a Penalty Notice or Finding of Violation in the five years preceding the date of the earliest transaction giving rise to the Apparent Violations;
  2. NOV cooperated with OFAC’s investigation, including by agreeing to toll the statute of limitations for more than 2,600 days; and
  3. NOV has made efforts to remediate its compliance program and agreed to further compliance enhancements.

More Information: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/CivPen/Documents/20161114_varco.pdf

Company Fined $4 Million for Exporting Seeds to Iran

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

PanAmerican Seed Company (PanAm) of West Chicago, Illinois, a division of Ball Horticultural Company has agreed to pay $4,320,000 to settle potential civil liability for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (31 C.F.R. part 560 ITSR). Its alleged that the company exported seeds, primarily of flowers, to two Iranian distributors on 48 different occasions between May 2009 and March 2012.

PanAm and Ball Horticultural employees (including several mid-level managers) were aware of the US economic sanctions involving Iran and the requirement to apply for licenses to export the seeds to Iran. PanAm concealed the shipments by shipping the seeds to consignees based in two third countries located in Europe or the Middle East, and then the Iranian customers arranged for the re-exportation of the seeds to Iran.

The maximum penalty for the violations would be $12 million, OFAC considered the following when applying the $4 million penalty:

OFAC considered the following to be aggravating factors:

  1. PanAm Seed willfully violated U.S. sanctions on Iran by engaging in, and systematically obfuscating, conduct it knew to be prohibited;
  2. PanAm Seed demonstrated recklessness with respect to U.S. sanctions requirements by ignoring its OFAC compliance responsibilities, despite substantial international sales and warnings that OFAC sanctions could be implicated;
  3. Multiple PanAm Seed and Ball Horticultural employees, including mid-level managers, had contemporaneous knowledge of the transactions giving rise to the Alleged Violations. They were aware that the seeds were intended for reexportation to Iran, and PanAm Seed continued sales to its Iranian distributors for nearly eight months after its Director of Finance learned of OFAC’s investigation;
  4. PanAm Seed engaged in this pattern of conduct over a period of years, providing over $770,000 in economic benefit to Iran;
  5. PanAm Seed did not initially cooperate with OFAC’s investigation, providing some information that was inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete; and
  6. PanAm Seed is a division of Ball Horticultural, a commercially sophisticated, international corporation.

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:

  1. PanAm Seed has not received a Penalty Notice or Finding of Violation from OFAC in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions giving rise to the Alleged Violations, making it eligible for “first offense” mitigation of up to 25 percent;
  2. The exports at issue were likely eligible for an OFAC license under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000;
  3. PanAm Seed took remedial steps to ensure future compliance with OFAC sanctions, including stopping all exports to Iran, implementing a compliance program, and training gat least some of its employees on OFAC sanctions; and
  4. PanAm Seed cooperated with OFAC by agreeing to toll the statute of limitations for a total of 882 days.

OFAC Information: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/CivPen/Documents/20160913_panam.pdf

It’s Not A Good Time for Iran Violations: Company Fined Over $16 Million for Medical Supplies Exported to Iran, Sudan and Syria

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

Alcon Laboratories, Inc., (Fort Worth), Alcon Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (Fribourg, Switzerland) and Alcon Management, SA (Geneve, Switerland) (collectively, “Alcon”) have agreed to settle a potential civil liability with the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) and with the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS).

Between 2008 and 2011 Alcon exported end-use surgical and pharmaceutical products from their United States location to their sister companies in Switzerland and then along to distributors in Iran, Sudan and Syria. The charges are broken down as follows:

OFAC Charging Details

On 452 occasions Alcon violated the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR) when they sold and exported medical supplies to distributors in Sudan. On 61 occasions they violated the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) when they sold and exported their products to Iranian distributors. Alcon will pay $7,617,150 related to the OFAC violations. The statutory maximum monetary penalty amount was $138,982,584 and the base penalty amount for the Apparent Violations was $16,927,000.

OFAC considered the following to be aggravating factors in this case:

  1. Alcon demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by having virtually no compliance program, despite significant business involving the exportation of goods from the United States to Iran and Sudan, and by failing to take adequate steps to investigate a third-party freight forwarder’s cessation of shipments to Iran on behalf of Alcon;
  2. Alcon and its then-senior management knew of the conduct giving rise to the Apparent Violations; and
  3. Alcon is a sophisticated multinational corporation with extensive experience in international trade.

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors in this case:

  1. The harm to U.S. sanctions program objectives was limited because the exports involved medical end-use products that were licensable under the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, and in fact had been previously and subsequently licensed by OFAC for Alcon;
  2. Alcon has no prior OFAC sanctions history, including receipt of a Penalty Notice or Finding of Violation in the five years preceding the date of the earliest transaction giving rise to the Apparent Violations, making it eligible for “first violation” mitigation of up to 25 percent;
  3. Alcon took remedial action by ceasing the unlicensed exports to sanctioned countries, initiating an internal investigation of the Apparent Violations, and instituting a robust compliance program that now includes:
    1. Updated or newly-created corporate export and trade sanctions compliance documents,
    2. Enhanced trade compliance training, and (c) enhanced compliance procedures for requesting OFAC licenses; and (4) Alcon substantially cooperated with OFAC’s investigation, including by providing detailed and well-organized information and entering into several statute of limitations tolling agreements with OFAC.

BIS Charging Details

Alcon has received 100 charges of Acting with Knowledge of a Violation, 45 charges of Unlicensed Reexports to Syria, and 43 Charges of Unlicensed Exports to Iran. In the cases of unlicensed exports, Alcon Pharmaceuticals (Switzerland) sent orders and invoices to Alcon labs (United States) with instructions to ship the orders to warehouses and distribution centers that it used in various countries, most specifically Switzerland. The facilities would receive the products and then Alcon Pharmaceuticals transferred and/or forwarded the items to Iran and Syria without required government licenses.

Alcon collectively has been accessed a civil penalty from BIS in the amount of $8,100,000, all of which is due, and will accrue interest if not paid on time. Alcon must also pay the penalty amount due to OFAC in a timely manner and comply with all of the terms related to the OFAC Settlement Agreement.

OFAC Information: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/CivPen/Documents/20160705_alcon.pdf

BIS Information: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/component/docman/doc_download/1068-e2466?Itemid=