Continuing its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the United States has (a) ratcheted up sanctions under Executive Orders that provide for the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in transactions with Iranian financial institutions, and (b) authorized the imposition of secondary sanctions on non-U.S. companies that engage in arms-related transactions with Iran pursuant to a new Executive Order, notwithstanding the expiration of the United Nations arms embargo under Security Council Resolution 2231 implementing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
On August 11, 2020, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a new guidance document, the Sudan Program and Darfur Sanctions Guidance (“Sudan Guidance”), which clarifies the current status of sanctions and export controls that apply to Sudan and the Government of Sudan. The Sudan Guidance confirms the removal of comprehensive sanctions on Sudan, permitting U.S. persons to engage in most economic activity. However, individual sanctions listings in Sudan and South Sudan continue and a U.S. embargo policy remains in place for exports to Sudan.
On March 12, 2020, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions against a second affiliate of PJSC Rosneft Oil Company (Rosneft) related to its activities with Venezuela. OFAC added TNK Trading International S.A. of Switzerland (TNK) to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List), and the Sectoral Sanctions Identifications List (SSI List) under Directives 2 and 4, pursuant to Executive Orders 13850 and 13662. Previously, on February 18, 2020, OFAC placed Rosneft Trading S.A. (Rosneft Trading), a Swiss subsidiary of Rosneft, on the SDN List for purchasing, transferring, brokering, and otherwise facilitating the shipment of crude oil from PdVSA. OFAC has authorized a wind down period for both companies through 12:01 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on May 20, 2020.
On January 10, 2020, the United States imposed additional sanctions on Iran in the wake of recent tensions between the countries and the continuing broader “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. Specifically, President Trump signed Executive Order 13902 (E.O. 13902) authorizing the imposition of secondary sanctions on certain transactions involving Iran’s construction, mining, manufacturing, and textiles industries. This follows Executive Order 13871 from May 2019, which authorized secondary sanctions on Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum and copper sectors. Concurrently with the issuance of E.O. 13902, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) several major Iran-related metal and mining companies, Chinese and Seychelles entities plus a related vessel involved in the Iranian metals trade, and Iranian regime officials.
On December 31, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas overturned a $2 million fine imposed by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) against ExxonMobil Corp., and its U.S. subsidiaries ExxonMobil Development Company and ExxonMobil Oil Corp. (collectively, “Exxon”). This marked a rare court decision overturning an OFAC sanctions penalty. The Court’s decision focused not on the subject of the sanctions but addressed whether OFAC had provided proper notice of its sanctions requirements.
The U.S. Treasury Department has issued sanctions designations against Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, and the Ministers of Defense, Energy and Interior pursuant to a new Executive Order issued on October 14, 2019 by President Trump in response to Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria. The Executive Order authorizes secondary sanctions and can expose non-U.S. companies and financial institutions interacting with designated Turkish parties to risk of penalties.
On June 5, 2019, the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) amended an important license exception which generally permitted the temporary sojourn of civil aircraft and vessels to Cuba. Specifically, BIS eliminated the license exception for use by non-commercial aircraft and passenger and recreational vessels sailing to Cuba. BIS also amended its licensing policy for such aircraft and vessels establishing a general policy of denial. On the same day, the Department of the Treasury eliminated its authorization for group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba.
On November 15, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned 17 officials of the Government of Saudi Arabia for their purported role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The individuals include Saud Al-Qahtani, the now former royal court adviser and consultant to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, and General Mohammed Alotaibi, Saudi Arabia’s consul general in Istanbul. This followed outreach on October 10, 2018 from leaders of both parties in the U.S. Senate to President Trump seeking a determination on the imposition of sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act with respect to any foreign person responsible for a human rights violation in connection with the death of Mr. Khashoggi.
On November 2, 2018, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued a final rule effective Monday, November 5, 2018 that amends the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations and reinstates sanctions on Iran that had been suspended during implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”). On May 8 of this year, the Trump Administration had announced that the United States would withdraw from the JCPOA, but provided for 90-day and 180-day wind-down periods for specified activities involving Iran.
The 90-day wind down period ended effective August 6, 2018, and the U.S. government took steps to re-implement sanctions via Executive Order 13846. This included the application of secondary sanctions to the purchase or acquisition of U.S. dollar banknotes by the Government of Iran, certain trade in gold or precious metals, certain trade in graphite, raw or semi-finished metals such as aluminum, steel, coal and software for integrating industrial processes, transactions relating to Iranian rials, transactions relating to issuance of Iranian sovereign debt, and sanctions relating to Iran’s automotive sector. (See our previous post here).
The latest announcement addresses the end of the 180-day wind down period and implements certain additional aspects of Executive Order 13846.
- The amendments include deleting the “EO 13599 List” of individuals and entities who were removed from the SDN List pursuant to the JCPOA, but still were considered “Government of Iran” parties or Iranian financial institutions subject to blocking by U.S. persons pursuant to EO 13599. The Federal Register notice states that OFAC will relist “as appropriate” certain individuals and entities who were on the EO 13599 List. It is therefore unclear at this time whether all persons who were on the EO 13599 List will be re-added to the SDN List.
- The Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations will authorize sanctions against a person upon a determination that:
- On or after August 7, 2018, the person has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the purchase or acquisition of U.S. bank notes or precious metals by the Government of Iran; or
- On or after November 5, 2018, the person has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO), or the Central Bank of Iran.
- OFAC amended a pre-existing general license allowing U.S. persons to sell real property in Iran provided it was acquired before the individual became a US person or was inherited from persons in Iran. The general license has been expanded to include personal property subject to the same conditions.
During a telecom briefing on Friday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo mentioned that the administration decided to grant “temporary allotments” to eight jurisdictions to continue purchasing Iranian oil. Some reports indicate that South Korea, Japan, India, and Turkey are among the countries receiving such waiver. Although Mr. Pompeo did not say how long the waivers will be in place, he mentioned that the purpose of the waivers is to give countries a few “weeks longer to wind down.”
We expect that the actual re-designations of persons and entities to the SDN List will be published on Monday along with guidance and FAQs. We will follow up next week with further details.
On August 6, 2018, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a new Executive Order to implement the previously announced re-imposition of U.S. sanctions for Iran. There were no major surprises, with the Executive Order paralleling the guidance released on May 8, 2018 when the President announced his decision to cease the United States’ participation in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and to begin re-imposing the U.S. nuclear-related sanctions that had been lifted, following a wind-down period.