On January 16, 2024, the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a memorandum, announcing that:

  1. parties disclosing minor or technical violations that occurred close in time can submit a single Voluntary Self-Disclosure (VSD) on a quarterly basis, which may include an abbreviated narrative account of the suspected violations; and
  2. parties sending formal requests to BIS’s Office of Exporter Services to engage in otherwise prohibited activities with respect to items involved in violations of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) should also send courtesy copies to the Office of Export Enforcement (OEE), which will help expedite BIS’s processing of such requests.

The memorandum builds upon previous changes to BIS’s administrative enforcement program, which were announced in memoranda dated June 30, 2022 and April 18, 2023.  These changes are intended to help OEE fast-track its review of “minor” or “technical” VSDs and to encourage additional disclosures of potentially significant violations of the EAR, but do not apply to VSDs relating to Part 760 of the EAR (antiboycott and restrictive trade practices).  For a detailed analysis of the previous memoranda, see our blog posts from July 6, 2022 and April 26, 2023.  Continue Reading BIS Makes Further Changes to Administrative Enforcement, But Questions Remain

On October 4, 2023, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, the second-ranking official in the US Department of Justice (“DOJ” or the “Department”), announced a new Safe Harbor Policy for Voluntary Self-Disclosures (“VSDs”) made in connection with mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) (together, “M&A Safe Harbor Policy”).  The new policy encourages acquiring companies to timely disclose misconduct uncovered during M&A due diligence and harmonizes the DOJ-wide approach to VSDs for M&A transactions.  The implementation of the M&A Safe Harbor Policy is the most recent initiative in the Biden Administration’s efforts to combat corporate crime and has broad implications across DOJ’s Divisions.Continue Reading DOJ Announces “Safe Harbor” Policy for Mergers & Acquisitions

On July 31, 2023, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) released its Annual Report to Congress for Calendar Year 2022.  CFIUS is the inter-agency body charged with conducting national security reviews for certain foreign investments in the United States.  The CFIUS process is generally confidential, but the annual report provides aggregate data on certain CFIUS activities and offers the private sector insight into current Committee trends.Continue Reading Key Takeaways from the 2022 CFIUS Annual Report

Overview

On August 9, 2023, the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order, entitled Addressing United States Investments in Certain National Security Technologies and Products in Countries of Concern (“EO 14105”). The EO establishes a new national security regulatory regime, implemented principally by the US Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”), in consultation with other federal agencies including the US Department of Commerce, that will require the notification of, as well as prohibit, certain investment activity by US persons in named “countries of concern,” currently China.

EO 14105 does not restrict all US person investment activity regarding China, and is tailored to focus on specific products, technologies, and capabilities involving: (1) semiconductors and microelectronics (including advanced integrated circuits and supercomputers); (2) quantum information technologies (e.g., computers, sensors, networking, and systems); and (3) certain artificial intelligence systems (e.g., with certain military, intelligence, or surveillance end uses).Continue Reading Biden Administration Announces New Outbound Investment Regime Targeting China

On July 26, 2023, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a joint compliance note (the Note) focusing on the voluntary self-disclosure (VSD) policies that apply to US sanctions, export controls, and other national security laws. The Note is the second collective effort by the three agencies to inform the private sector about civil and criminal enforcement trends, as well as to provide guidance to the business community and all persons regarding compliance with US sanctions and export laws. The first joint note, which focused on combatting third-party intermediaries used to evade Russia-related US sanctions and divert export-controlled items that are contributing to Russia’s foreign harmful activities, was issued on March 2, 2023.

The Note does not change the existing VSD policies of the three agencies, but highlights the benefits of their existing VSD policies to incentivize companies to promptly disclose and remediate.  Likewise, the Note highlights the risks companies face, in at least some instances, should they choose not to disclose.

The Note also encourages whistleblowers to report suspected violations of sanctions and anti-money laundering laws to the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), for which persons that submit whistleblower tips may be awarded up to 10% to 30% of the monetary penalty collected for successful US government enforcement actions.Continue Reading Commerce, Treasury, and Justice Issue Joint Compliance Note on Voluntary Self-Disclosure

On April 18, 2023, Matthew Axelrod, Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), issued a memorandum outlining two important changes to BIS’s settlement guidelines when significant potential violations of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) are identified. Specifically, BIS announced that (1) the deliberate non-disclosure of a significant potential violation will now be treated as an aggravating factor in civil enforcement cases, and (2) whistleblowing of significant potential violations by another party that ultimately results in a BIS enforcement action will be considered a mitigating factor in any future enforcement action involving the whistleblower, even for unrelated conduct. The policy changes are intended to incentivize the submission of disclosures to BIS when industry or academia uncovers significant EAR violations (i.e., those reflecting possible national security harm, as opposed to minor, technical violations).

BIS’s new policy of treating non-disclosure of significant potential violations of the EAR as an aggravating factor marks a potential sea change in the voluntary self-disclosure (VSD) risk calculus for exporters and reexporters. By reorienting the purpose of the VSD to serve as both carrot and stick, BIS has now interjected more complexity into the voluntary disclosure decision making process. Companies that may have been inclined, previously, to remediate significant potential violations but not disclose may now face a more difficult choice. While it may take years for the civil penalty data to demonstrate the concrete costs of non-disclosure of significant potential violations of the EAR, consideration of that factor is likely to weigh heavily in any future BIS VSD decisions.Continue Reading A Carrot and a Stick: BIS Clarifies Policy on Self-Disclosures and Whistleblowing

On February 24, 2023, the US government announced a range of new export controls, sanctions, and tariffs to coincide with the first anniversary of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. These actions by the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), the US Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the US Department of State, and the White House reflect the continued efforts of the US – in coordination with its allies – to impose costs on Russia for the war.

Each successive round of US export controls and sanctions presents new compliance challenges, against the backdrop of heightened enforcement risk resulting from aggressive, well-coordinated US government actions. US and non-US entities and individuals who engage in transactions related to Russia or Belarus should pay close attention to this complex and evolving regulatory framework. Additionally, entities and individuals exporting to Iran should take note of the expanded scope of the US Export Administration Regulations (EAR) under a new Iran Foreign Direct Product (FDP) Rule.Continue Reading US Imposes Additional Export Controls, Sanctions, and Tariffs targeting Russia, Belarus, and Iran On First Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine

On February 16, 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Commerce Department announced the creation of the Disruptive Technology Strike Force with a mission to prevent nation-state “adversaries” from acquiring “disruptive” technologies.  The strike force will be co-led by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division (NSD) and Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) Matthew Axelrod, and will bring together the DOJ’s NSD, BIS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and 14 US Attorneys’ Offices in 12 metropolitan regions. 

The strike force’s mandate, and remarks by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announcing the new initiative, illustrate the US government’s continuing focus on protecting sensitive data and “disruptive” technologies, as well as the regulatory and enforcement tools that the US government has used and will continue to use to prevent the acquisition, use, and “abuse” of “disruptive” technologies by autocratic governments to commit human rights abuses and seek strategic advantage vis-à-vis the United States.Continue Reading Justice and Commerce Departments Announce Creation of Disruptive Technology Strike Force

In this blog post, we provide an overview of the updates to the Criminal Division’s Corporate Enforcement Policy (CEP) and discuss the impact of these changes on the corporate enforcement policies for criminal violations of sanctions and export controls, criminal violations of antitrust laws, and civil violations of the False Claim Act.

On January 17, 2023, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. announced changes to the Department of Justice’s (“DOJ”) Corporate Enforcement Policy (“CEP”), including applying the most recent FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy to all corporate criminal cases handled by the DOJ’s Criminal Division. The FCPA Corporate Enforcement Policy, codified in § 9-47.120 of the Justice Manual, provides that if a company voluntarily self-discloses, fully cooperates, and timely and appropriately remediates, there is a presumption of declination absent certain “aggravating circumstances involving the seriousness of the offense or the nature of the offender.” The clear goal of this and other recent pronouncements from senior DOJ leadership is to tip the scales in favor of early disclosure by setting forth concrete incentives for corporations that discover potential criminal violations. 

Importantly, the CEP now explicitly states that a company presenting “aggravating circumstances,”1 while not eligible for a presumption of declination, may still obtain a declination if (1) the company had an effective compliance program and system of internal accounting controls at the time of the alleged misconduct, (2) the voluntary self-disclosure was made “immediately” upon the company becoming aware of the allegation of misconduct, and (3) the company provided “extraordinary cooperation” to DOJ investigators. For companies that do not receive a declination but do receive credit, the CEP also increases the available discounts from fines under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”), both for companies that voluntarily self-disclose and those that do not.

Although the updated CEP heavily emphasizes the benefits of voluntary self-disclosure and cooperation, its implications for companies will largely depend upon the Criminal Division’s application of the policy, including through DOJ prosecutors’ interpretation of important, undefined terms such as “immediate” disclosure and “extraordinary” cooperation.

Moreover, although the CEP applies to the entire Criminal Division, it could potentially have ripple effects on the corporate enforcement policies in place in other DOJ components. For example, the CEP does not revoke or alter the DOJ National Security Division’s (“NSD”) Export Control and Sanctions Enforcement Policy for Business Organizations (the “Export Control and Sanctions Enforcement Policy”). That NSD policy is generally consistent with the CEP, but it does not spell out affirmatively, as the new Criminal Division policy does, the circumstances that a company must demonstrate to be considered for a non-prosecution agreement (“NPA”) rather than a criminal resolution in the face of aggravating factors. Similarly, the Antitrust Division and Civil Division have their own corporate enforcement policies in place, each of which has aspects uniquely tailored to those respective regimes. It therefore remains to be seen whether these other Divisions within DOJ will adjust their corporate enforcement policies to align more precisely with the CEP.  Continue Reading DOJ’s New Corporate Enforcement Policy for the Criminal Division and its Impact on Cases handled by other Divisions

On January 18, 2023, the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an order identifying the virtual currency exchange Bitzlato Limited (Bitzlato) as a “primary money laundering concern” in connection with Russian illicit finance.  The order, which is the first of its kind, was issued pursuant to Section 9714(a) of the Combating Russian Money Laundering Act. Continue Reading In Unprecedented Action FinCEN Identifies Virtual Currency Exchange as Primary Money Laundering Concern