On September 15, 2022, President Biden issued a new executive order (EO), entitled “Executive Order on Ensuring Robust Consideration of Evolving National Security Risks by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” that directs CFIUS to consider certain risk factors when reviewing covered transactions.  CFIUS-related executive orders are rare and have typically been used to establish procedures and processes, rather than provide substantive guidance to the Committee.  President Biden’s order is unusual in that it goes beyond process considerations and directs the Committee to consider specific substantive risks as part of its reviews.  According to a White House fact sheet, this is the first EO “since CFIUS was established in 1975 to provide formal Presidential direction on the risks that the Committee should consider when reviewing a covered transaction.”

The EO does not alter the legal powers granted to CFIUS, including the scope of transactions which it can review.  Nor does it contain any provisions regarding outbound investments (sometimes called “reverse CFIUS”), which was recently proposed in Congress and on which the Administration is considering taking executive action in the near term.

However, it provides important insight into the Administration’s thinking with respect to national security issues linked to foreign investment and puts both US businesses and foreign investors involved in certain industries, or engaged in certain activities, on notice that CFIUS may more closely scrutinize their deals.

Continue Reading Rare Executive Order Sharpens CFIUS Focus

On August 30, 2022, further amendments to the UK’s nine thematic and 29 geographic sanctions regulations came into effect, which expand financial sanctions reporting obligations to cryptoasset exchanges and custodian wallet providers.  The amendments, which were introduced under the Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2022 and the Sanctions (EU Exit) (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No.2) Regulations 2022 (Amending Regulations), revise the definition of a “relevant firm” to which mandatory financial sanctions reporting obligations apply.

Continue Reading New UK Sanctions Legislation Expands Mandatory Financial Sanctions Reporting Obligations to Include Crypto Providers

This year, we have witnessed an extraordinary set of coordinated economic sanctions and export control regulatory actions against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. In contrast to the fast and furious pace of regulatory action, enforcement actions did not keep pace.

This year’s enforcement actions by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) are notable for their jurisdictional reach and expansion of liability theories that aren’t necessarily supported by the plain language of their regulatory authority. The Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) enforcement actions have targeted the aerospace industry, especially in relation to Russia and Belarus. The Department of Justice (DOJ) expended much of its resources on seizing and forfeiting assets linked to Russian oligarchs, galvanizing its multilateral networks.

Interestingly, OFAC continued to target the Iranian petroleum and petrochemical sector despite news reports of intensive negotiations to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Below we discuss some representative enforcement actions to date.

Continue Reading What to Expect Next? US Economic Sanctions and Export Controls Enforcement Actions Thus Far in 2022

The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently released preliminary guidance on the implementation of a price cap policy on Russian crude oil and petroleum products.  This policy has major implications for maritime service providers and maritime supply chains.

Continue Reading OFAC Releases Preliminary Guidance on Implementation of the Russian Oil Price Cap

On August 1, Robinhood Crypto, LLC (RHC) entered a consent order with the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) requiring RHC to pay a $30 million fine for violating (1) New York’s virtual currency regulatory regime known as the BitLicense, (2) a Supervisory Agreement entered with DFS as a condition of its BitLicense, (3) anti-money laundering (AML) requirements applicable to money transmitters, and (4) other requirements related to transaction monitoring, filtering, and cybersecurity.  The consent order, which is DFS’s first enforcement action under the BitLicense regime or against a digital currency business, offers several important takeaways for blockchain companies operating or seeking to operate in the state, including (1) the importance of scaling up compliance processes commensurate with business growth, (2) the risks of relying on compliance programs of affiliated entities, (3) the importance of well-developed reporting lines in compliance programs, and (4) the consequences of filing “improper” certifications under DFS’s transaction monitoring and cybersecurity rules.

Continue Reading DFS’s First Enforcement Action Against a Blockchain Company: Lessons Learned

On August 8, 2022, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the imposition of sanctions on the decentralized digital asset mixer Tornado Cash.  The action marks the first time OFAC has targeted an on-chain decentralized protocol.  To date, OFAC has not issued any guidance specific to decentralized finance (DeFi) as part of its broader sanctions guidance for the “virtual currency” industry, but the Tornado Cash action lays down an important marker and makes clear that OFAC will target projects or protocols engaged in illicit activity regardless of their centralized or decentralized status.  (Our prior blog post on OFAC’s general virtual currency guidance is available here).

Continue Reading OFAC Designates Tornado Cash in First Action Against a Decentralized Platform

On August 2, 2022, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS” or “Committee”) released its statutorily required Annual Report to Congress for Calendar Year 2021.  CFIUS is the inter-agency body charged with conducting national security reviews for certain foreign investments in the United States.  While the CFIUS process is generally confidential, the annual report provides aggregate data on certain CFIUS activities and offers industry a window into current Committee trends.

Continue Reading Key Takeaways from the 2021 CFIUS Annual Report

On July 19, 2022, the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) published Open General License (OGL) No. 1 and OGL No. 2, which authorize reexports to or retransfers within the U.K., Canada, and Australia of certain types of defense articles, services and technical data controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).  In good news for industry, these groundbreaking ITAR provisions are relatively simple and easy to use. Both OGLs are valid for one year, effective August 1, 2022, through July 31, 2023.

Continue Reading New ITAR Rules Facilitate Defense Trade with the U.K., Canada and Australia

On July 21, 2022, further amendments to the UK’s Russia sanctions regime were laid before parliament.  The new measures introduced under the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 14) Regulations 2022 (“Amendment 14”) include the coal, oil and gold import bans and ban on the provision of professional and business services previously announced by the UK government.  Amendment 14 also introduces trade restrictions targeting a significant number of new “G7 dependency and further” goods and expands existing restrictions with respect to energy-related goods and services.

Continue Reading UK Introduces Long Awaited Russia Sanctions Legislation Banning Coal, Oil and Gold Imports, and the Provision of Professional and Business Services to Russia and Further Expands Trade Restrictions

On July 19, 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order (EO) 14078 to strengthen the US Government’s efforts to combat and deter hostage-taking and wrongful detention of US nationals abroad.  Issued pursuant to the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act (Levinson Act), the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and other authorities, EO 14078 strengthens existing hostage recovery activities and infrastructure and authorizes the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General, to impose blocking sanctions on persons determined to be responsible for or complicit in, to have directly or indirectly engaged in, or to be responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, the hostage-taking of a United States national or the wrongful detention of a United States national abroad, or to have attempted to engage in such activity.

Continue Reading New Executive Order Targets Persons Responsible for Hostage Taking and Wrongful Detention