Archive for the ‘Violations & Fines’ Category

Beware of Contracts Signed by Specially Designated Nationals

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

(Source: Commonwealth Trading Partners)

By: Chalinee Tinaves, Esq., Commonwealth Trading Partners, ctinaves@ctp-inc.com.

On July 20, 2017, the Office of the Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $2 million penalty against ExxonMobil Corporation and two of its subsidiaries for violating the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, ExxonMobil violated the sanctions when its execs dealt in services with Igor Sechin, President of Rosneft OAO, when they signed eight legal documents relating to oil and gas projects in Russia between May 14, 2014, and May 23, 2014.

If you’ll travel back in time to March 2014, as tensions were heating up regarding Russian deployment of military forces in the Crimea region of Ukraine, President Obama issued Executive Order 13661, “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine,” in response to actions deemed to constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the U.S. Section 1(a)(ii) authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to designate officials of the Government of the Russian Federation, block any property or interests in property, and prohibit dealing in any property and interests in property of a person listed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List). Section 4 of E.O. 13661 prohibited US persons from making “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order” as well as receiving “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services” from a designated person.

On April 28, 2014, OFAC designated Igor Sechin as an official of the Russian government, thereby generally prohibiting US persons from conducting transactions with him. Although Rosneft OAO is:

  • designated on the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List (SSI List) pursuant to Executive Order 13662 “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine;”
  • subject to Directive 2 (prohibiting transacting in, providing financing for, or otherwise dealing in new debt of greater than 90 days maturity if that debt is issued on or after the sanctions effective date by, on behalf of, or for the benefit of the persons operating in Russia’s energy sector); and
  • subject to Directive 4 (prohibition against the direct or indirect provision of, exportation, or reexportation of goods, 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 Russian Federation and extending from its Territory); nonetheless, Rosneft OAO is not designated on the SDN List and is therefore not subject to blocking sanctions.

As you can see, the conflict lies in how to conduct business transactions with an organization that is not blocked with an executive who is. According to the release, OFAC rejected ExxonMobil’s position that Sechin was acting in his professional capacity as President of Rosneft OAO when they signed the legal documents. Specifically, ExxonMobil referenced comments by a Treasury Department spokesman in April 2014 allowing BP Plc Chief Executive, Bob Dudley, to remain on the board of directors of Rosneft OAO so long as he did not discuss personal business with Sechin. In rejecting this argument, OFAC indicated that statement did not address ExxonMobil’s conduct nor did the plain language of Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations include a distinction between “personal” or “professional.” Further, OFAC has not interpreted the Regulations to create a carve-out for designated parties acting in their professional capacity.

Interestingly, in support of its position, OFAC pointed to its Frequently Asked Question #285 published on March 18, 2013, regarding the Burma Sanctions Program. Although conveniently now removed from OFAC’s FAQs and website following the termination of the Burma Sanctions Regulations, an archived link detailing FAQ #285 captured the full text of OFAC’s response to ministry dealings with a designated Burmese Government minister. According to OFAC:

A government ministry is not blocked solely because the minister heading it is an SDN. U.S. persons should, however, be cautious in dealings with the ministry to ensure that they are not, for example, entering into any contracts that are signed by the SDN.

However, in Treasury’s restatement of FAQ #285 in the ExxonMobil announcement, OFAC indicated that US parties should “be cautious in dealings with [a non-designated] entity to ensure that they are not providing funds, goods, or services to the SDN, for example, by entering into any contracts that are signed by the SDN.”

Rejecting ExxonMobil’s rebuttal that OFAC regulations state that different interpretations may exist among and between the sanctions programs that it administers, FAQ #285 “clearly signaled” that OFAC views the signing of a contract with an SDN as prohibited, even if the entity on whose behalf the SDN signed was not sanctioned in situations where sanctions programs also involve SDNs. These reasons, in addition to the definitions of “property” and “property interest” in the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, E.O. 13661, and statements issued by the White House and the Department of Treasury, served to provide ExxonMobil with notice that signing the legal documents with Sechin would violate the prohibitions in the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.

In assessing the penalty based on OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, among other aggravating factors, OFAC viewed ExxonMobil’s transaction to be a show of “reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements when it failed to consider warning signs associated with dealing in the blocked services of an SDN” and contributed “significant harm” to the objectives of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Program. Following the announcement, ExxonMobil stood by its position that it acted in full compliance with the sanctions guidelines in 2014 and argued that the Treasury Department is “trying to retroactively enforce a new interpretation of an executive order that is inconsistent with the explicit and unambiguous guidance from the White House and Treasury issued before the relevant conduct and still publicly available today.”

What does all this mean for U.S. companies? While FAQ #285 was initially crafted to address contracts with a designated government official (which Sechin satisfied based on his designation as a Russian official), it is unclear whether this interpretation would also be applicable in situations involving non-government SDNs and their corporate dealings. Further, the prohibited conduct of entering into a contract signed by an SDN in FAQ #285 was listed as an example. It is entirely possible that a range of other contract activities are prohibited by SDNs like negotiating a contract. Companies must be aware of the risks associated with projects that would require authorization by an SDN. Further, companies can mitigate their risk by screening all the parties involved in a transaction to avoid potentially violating a sanctions program.

Cryomech Charged for Illegal Export to Russian Company on Entity List

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Ashleigh Foor

Cryomech, Inc. of Syracuse, NY has received a charge involving its exports of  an LNP-20 Liquid Nitrogen Plant, an item classified as EAR99 in the EAR, from the United States to the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF) a.k.a Russian Federal Nuclear Center-VNIIEF (RFNC-VNIIEF) in Sarov, Russia. Cryomech shipped this item, valued at $33,587, without the required BIS License on or around August 16, 2012. On June 9, 2017 the company received a civil penalty of $28,000 as well as an order to hire an unaffiliated third-party consultant with expertise in U.S. export control laws to complete an external audit of its entire export controls compliance program. Cryomech will not be debarred if penalty is paid and audit is completed with results submitted.

Settlement Documents: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/export-violations/export-violations-2015/1114-e2501/file

Export and Recordkeeping Violations Nets $700,000 Fine for Axis Communications

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Ashleigh Foor

On June 9, 2017 a total of 15 charges were brought against Chelmsford, MA company, Axis Communications, Inc, resulting in a $700,000 fine and a thorough audit of its entire export controls compliance program.

Thirteen of the charges were from exporting thermal imaging cameras without the required licenses on, around, or between the dates of March 16, 2011 and July 15, 2013. Axis exported thermal imaging cameras controlled by the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) from the United States to Mexico. Valued at $391,819, these exports required export license. Thermal imaging cameras, classified under Export Control Classification Number 6A003.b.4, are controlled for national security and regional stability reasons.

Axis also received two charges for failing to comply with EAR recordkeeping requirements. In mid-June of 2013, when these thermal imaging cameras were being shipped from the United States to Mexico, Axis allegedly did not keep the required documents and invoices connected to these exports. The EAR requires companies to retain these transaction documents. Axis’ failure to do so, in addition to its thirteen charges of exporting without a required license, resulted in a civil penalty of $700,000 and an order to undergo an external audit of the company’s export controls compliance program. Axis was required to hire an unaffiliated third-party consultant with an expertise in U.S. export control laws to conduct the audit. The order, given June 9, 2017, stated the company would be put on an export denial list unless fine is paid as arranged and audit is completed with results submitted.

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.

Pay the Government on Time…or Pay Even Sooner

Thursday, May 11th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

In September 2015, Streit USA Armoring, LLC entered into a Settlement Agreement with the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) that imposed a civil penalty of $1.6 million ($850 million in installment payments and $750,000 suspended). The company violated the regulations after it reexported armored vehicles to Iraq, Nigeria, and the Philippines. Full article available at http://learnexportcompliance.bluekeyblogs.com/2015/10/01/bis-nails-mid-and-high-level-company-officials-but-not-export-administrator-in-addition-to-company/.

During settlement negotiations Streit USA specifically sought for the ability to pay the $850,000 in installment payment of $170,000. Under this plan, the company was required to make all payments on time; it was found that their November 2016 payment was not made in a timely fashion so the Final Order has been amended to move the due date forward for the final two remaining payments. Streit USA will now owe its final payment son May 2017 and September 2017 compared to the original June 2017 and January 2018.

Amended Order: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/export-violations/export-violations-2015/1111-e2498/file

Chinese National Pleads Guilty to Attempting to Export “Bananas”

Thursday, May 11th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

For the past 6 years, 53 year old Fuyi Sun has attempted to purchase carbon fiber for the Chinese military (according to court records). A few years ago Sun contacted what he thought was a US company that distributed carbon fiber, but was, in fact, an undercover entity created by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and staffed by undercover agents. The company, “UC Company,” was asked by Sun to supply M60 Carbon Fiber which is a high-grade carbon fiber that is used in sophisticated aerospace and defense applications, specifically for drones and other government defense applications. M60 Carbon Fiber requires a license for export to China for nuclear non-proliferation and anti-terrorism reasons.

During the course of the relationship between UC Company and Sun, he often suggested various security measures they should take to make sure they would both remain protected from the “U.S. Intelligence.” He instructed the undercover agents to use the word “banana” instead of “carbon fiber” in all communications…he inquired about purchasing 450 kilograms of banana in one email. He also instructed agents to remove identifying barcodes for the carbon fiber, prior to transshipment,  and instructed them to identify it as “acrylic fiber” in customs documentation.

On April 11, 2016, Sun traveled from China to New York to purchase the M60 Carbon Fiber from UC Company. On April 11th and 12th Sun met with undercover agents and suggested to them that the Chinese military was the ultimate end-user for the carbon fiber, he also explained that he personally worked in the Chinese missile program. He further asserted that he had a close relationship with the Chinese military, and would be supplying the M60 Carbon Fiber to the Chinese military or to institutions closely associated with it. He agreed to purchase two cases of the carbon fiber on the 12th from UC Company and provided them with $23,000 in cash for the carbon fiber and then provided an additional $2,000 as compensation for the risk that he believed they were taking to illegally export the carbon fiber to China without a license. Sun was arrested the next day.

Sun pled guilty to attempting to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum sentence in this case will be prescribed by Congress. Sun will be sentenced on July 26, 2017.

Details: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/chinese-national-pleads-guilty-attempting-illegally-export-high-grade-carbon-fiber-china

Company Fined $162K for Antiboycott Violations

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

The Office of Antiboycott Compliance, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has charged Pelco Inc. (Pelco) with 66 violations. Between May 2011 and January 2016 it was found that on 32 occasions Pelco was engaged in transactions involving the sale/transfer of goods and services from the US to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, activities in the interstate or foreign commerce of the US (Section 760.1(d)). In connection with these transactions, Pelco, with intent to comply with, further supported an unsanctioned foreign boycott by agreeing to refuse to do business with another person (prohibited by Section 760.2(a)).

In addition to those 32 charges, Pelco was charged with 34 violations of “Failing to Report the Receipt of a Request to Engage in a Restrictive Trade Practice or Foreign Boycott Against a Country Friendly to the US” (Section 760.5). This is not surprising, a company who agrees to an illegal boycott is not likely to report said boycott.

Pelco will pay $162K to settle the violations and will not be debarred as long as the settlement amount it paid.

Charging Letter: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/antiboycott/alleged-antiboycott-violations-2015/1100-a749/file

Florida Company Fined $27 Million for 150 Intentional EAR Violations

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

By: Danielle McClellan

Access USA Shipping, LLC (Access) of Sarasota, Florida was charged with 150 violations beginning in April 2011 and spanning to February 2013. The company went out of its way to conceal the fact that foreign customers were purchasing products through them without their US merchants knowing who the end users of their items were. Access mis-described, undervalued, and destroyed and/or altered export control documents to conceal the illegal exports. They also made sure that their foreign customers had a direct employee to order through to avoid any export scrutiny. They went as far as allowing foreign customers to send “wish lists” to Access employees who would then purchase the products from their US merchants with US credit cards and PayPal accounts in the name of Eric Baird, Access’s founder and then-owner and CEO or cards opened in the name of the employee making the order. The foreign customer would then reimburse Access or the employee; there were even situations when the shipments were delivered to the homes of Access employees to ensure that the US merchants would not become suspicious of the order and the end user.

Access also exported (or attempted to) items classified as ECCN 0A987 which are controlled for Crime Control reasons to Argentina, Austria, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Libya, South Africa, and Sweden without a BIS export license. It was also found that the company exported (or attempted to) items classified as ECCN 5A990 and controlled for anti-terrorism reasons as well as EAR99 items to Transsphere Oy, a company on the Entity List.

The company is ordered to pay $10 million right away and the other $17 million will be suspended for two years and waived if the company does not commit any violations during the two year probationary period.

Charging Letter: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/export-violations/export-violations-2015/1102-e2490/file

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

Justice Publishes Summary of Major U.S. Export Enforcement, Economic Espionage, Trade Secret, and Embargo-Related Criminal Cases

Thursday, March 30th, 2017 by Danielle McClellan

(Source: Justice)

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has published its Summary of Major U.S. Export Enforcement, Economic Espionage, Trade Secret, and Embargo-Related Criminal Cases, (January 2014 to the present: updated February 17, 2017), available at here.

The list contains a brief description of some of the major export enforcement, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, and embargo-related criminal prosecutions by the Justice Department since January 2014. These cases resulted from investigations by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) [formerly Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)], the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the Pentagon’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS), and other law enforcement agencies.