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 November 15, 2018, the U.S. State Department added several new Cuban hotels to its List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba (“Cuba Restricted List”). The recent update includes the additional of 16 hotels, with 26 newly identified entities in total. The State Department also made five amendments to previously listed entities, including three name-changes, one new alias, and one typographical correction. The new hotels are being added to the Cuba Restricted List because they have been identified as entities that are under the control of the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services.
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 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.
- The Treasury Department has placed several prominent Russian individuals and companies on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons lists (SDN list). Several of these parties are Russian billionaires previously identified in the Treasury Department’s so-called “Oligarch List” reported to Congress on January 29, 2018.
- Under the general licenses issued with the new listings, U.S. persons have until June 5, 2018 to wind down operations with specified listed companies and their subsidiaries, and until May 7, 2018 to divest debt, equity, or holdings owned by EN+ Group PLC, GAZ Group and United Company RUSAL PLC.
- General License 12, which allows wind down operations with several newly designated SDN companies, instructs that payments to the SDNs must be made into blocked accounts with U.S. banks. This deviates from previous general licenses which did not place conditions on how SDNs must be paid.
On April 6, 2018, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in consultation with the State Department, designated 7 Russian oligarchs, 12 companies that they own or control, 17 senior Russian government officials, and 1 state-owned Russian weapons trading company and its subsidiary, a Russian bank. (The list may be found here.)
Following President Trump’s trip to Asia, sanctions policies for North Korea continue to evolve. The U.S. government has strengthened sanctions through legislation and Presidential Executive Orders. Further, it is enforcing its secondary sanctions against companies doing business with the North Korean regime, thus far targeting banks, businesses and individuals. The UN Security Council has approved resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea in reaction to its nuclear and missile tests. Aggressive enforcement by the United States and actions by China and other Asian countries in light of the UN resolutions should be expected. Indeed, President Trump recently tweeted that China would be “upping” sanctions against North Korea.
Below is a summary of key pronouncements from the U.S. government, UN, and other countries.
On November 8, 2017, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) announced amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (“CACR”) and Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). In addition, the State Department published a list of entities and subentities deemed to be under the control or to act on behalf of the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel. These steps implement the changes to the Cuba sanctions program announced by the President in his June “National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba” (“NSPM”). The changes reflect adjustments to the broader Cuba reform initiated by former President Obama in January 2015. A majority of the general license and guidance issued since that time remain in effect.
The key changes to the Cuba sanctions program are as follows:
Effective October 12, 2017, the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations (SSR) have been revoked in recognition of the Government of Sudan’s (GOS) sustained positive actions in stopping conflict and improving humanitarian access in Sudan. This latest action makes permanent the general license issued in January 2017. However, Sudan remains designated as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” and accordingly, key restrictions remain.
Today, President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O.) providing for sanctions against the Government of Venezuela. The sanctions are structured similar to existing sectoral sanctions on the Russian petroleum sector and target financial transactions with the Government of Venezuela.