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 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

On June 28, 2022, the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a Joint Alert entitled “FinCEN and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security Urge Increased Vigilance for Potential Russian and Belarusian Export Control Evasion Attempts” (“Joint Alert”).  The Joint Alert marks the first time FinCEN and BIS have collaborated on an alert of this nature and has important implications for both financial institutions and exporters/international trade parties.

Continue Reading New Joint Alert Puts Export Compliance Focus on Financial Institutions

Between April 18 and May 2, 2022, the US government continued to ratchet up economic sanctions, export controls, and other restrictive trade measures targeting Russia.  Most significantly, on April 21, President Biden issued a Proclamation prohibiting “Russian-affiliated vessels” from entering US ports.  Otherwise, the US government has focused on utilizing its existing authorities to impose further costs on Russia.

Over the last two weeks of April, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated over 40 individuals and entities including Transkapitalbank (TKB), re-issued an expanded set of Ukraine- / Russia- Sanctions Regulations (URSR), and issued several new or revised general licenses, including one relating to the provision of assistance by nongovernmental organizations, and 8 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

Separately, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) continues to be focused on restricting the Russian aviation sector, issuing a temporary denial order (TDO) on the Russian cargo aircraft carrier, Aviastar, for operating aircraft on flights into and out of Russia without the BIS authorization required under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), and providing weekly updates to its list of commercial and private aircraft operated in potential violation of the EAR.

Continue Reading April 18 – May 2, 2022 Russian Sanctions Update

Between April 5 and April 17, 2022, the US government took several steps to ratchet up economic sanctions, export controls, and other restrictive trade measures targeting Russia and Belarus.

President Biden issued a new Executive Order prohibiting US persons from engaging in new investment in Russia, and also establishing a framework through which US persons could in the future be prohibited from providing certain services to any person in Russia.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a darknet market and cryptocurrency exchange, several Russian banks and their subsidiaries, and a number of companies allegedly assisting the Russian military by adding them to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List pursuant to Executive Orders (EOs) 14024 and 13694. OFAC also published seven new and amended general licenses, including authorizations related to the recent designations of Public Joint Stock Company Sberbank of Russia (Sberbank), Joint Stock Company Alfa-Bank (Alfa-Bank), and Public Joint Stock Company Alrosa (Alrosa).

Separately, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced new, stringent export controls so that all items subject to the US Export Administration Regulations, except items designated “EAR99,” require a license for export, reexport, or transfer (in country) to or in the Russian Federation and Belarus.

Continue Reading US Sanctions on Russia Continue to Grow

Between March 24 and April 1, 2022, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated over 400 Russian elites, Duma members, and defense companies as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to Executive Order (EO). 14024. OFAC also published four new, limited General Licenses regarding certain humanitarian, import-related, diplomatic, and journalistic activities, added one new FAQ, and published a determination for EO 14024. Separately, the White House has indicated that the United States is seriously considering imposing secondary sanctions against companies engaged in evasive activities with Russia or in business that otherwise undermines sanctions.

Additionally, on April 1, the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added 120 entities in Russia and Belarus to the Entity List.

For a summary of prior US sanctions and export controls related to Russia adopted since February 21, 2022, please see our Steptoe blog posts from March 21, March 8, and February 27.

Continue Reading A Summary of The Latest US Sanctions on Russia

As of March 20, 2022, a new Executive Order (EO) prohibited certain imports, exports, the transfer of US dollar banknotes to Russia, and new investments involving certain sectors of the Russian economy.  The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) also issued new General Licenses and Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) guidance. Additionally, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) announced new regulations to control the export, reexport, and transfer (in country) of certain luxury goods to or within Russia and Belarus. BIS also identified numerous aircraft subject to US export controls jurisdiction that had flown to Russia without a license, and issued a reminder regarding the restrictions under General Prohibition 10 under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) of servicing such aircraft.

Key points of these US sanctions developments and export controls are summarized below.

For a summary of US sanctions and export controls adopted between February 21 and March 8, 2022, see this Steptoe blog post.

Continue Reading Update: New US Sanctions on Russia Target Certain Imports, Exports, Dollar Banknotes, and Investments

On March 7, 2022, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US Department of the Treasury published guidance (Guidance) for US financial institutions warning about: (1) efforts of foreign actors to evade expanding US economic sanctions and trade restrictions related to the Russian Federation and Belarus and (2) increased risk of malicious cyber-attacks and related ransomware campaigns, following the invasion of and continued military action in Ukraine.  The Guidance provides instructive red flags and related advice for all US financial institutions to evaluate, and provides information of particular relevance for Money Services Businesses (MSBs) and other FinCEN-regulated institutions undertaking transactions in what the agency calls “convertible virtual currency” (CVC).

Most notably, FinCEN strongly encourages US financial institutions that have information about CVC flows, including exchangers or administrators of CVC to: (1) be mindful of efforts to evade expanded US sanctions and export controls related to Russia and Belarus, summarized by Steptoe here; (2) submit Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) as soon as possible regarding such conduct; (3) undertake appropriate risk-based due diligence of customers, and where required, enhanced due diligence; (4) voluntarily share information with other financial institutions consistent with Section 314(b) of the USA PATRIOT Act; and (5) consider using tools to identify assets that must be blocked or frozen under applicable sanctions.

Continue Reading What US Financial Institutions Need to Know about FinCEN’s Russian Sanctions Evasion and Ransomware Guidance

Since February 21, 2022, the United States has joined a coalition of countries imposing sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. New US sanctions and export controls are wide ranging and complex, significantly impacting trade and related financial transactions between the US and Russia, as well as Belarus.  They also affect transactions and exports from outside the United States in many areas of commerce. The following is a high-level overview of recent US legal developments as of March 8, 2022.

For more information on how these measures could impact your organization, contact a member of Steptoe’s Economic Sanctions and Export Controls teams.

Additional resources can be found on Steptoe’s “Sanctions against Russia: Implications for Business and International Trade” page.

Continue Reading A Summary of New Ukraine-related US Sanctions and Export Controls on Russia and Belarus

The United States government has continued to impose numerous economic sanctions and export controls measures following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  On February 24, 2022, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) significantly expanded export controls applicable to Russia.  On February 25, 2022, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) added Russian President Vladimir Putin and others to the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) List.  It also imposed significant economic sanctions measures targeting Russia’s financial system — including by imposing sanctions on Russia’s largest financial institutions and limiting the ability of certain Russian state-owned and private entities to raise capital.  Together, OFAC’s actions, which were taken pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 14024 following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are estimated to affect nearly 80 percent of all banking assets in Russia.

Finally, on February 26, 2022, the United States and European Union countries, together with the United Kingdom and Canada, announced an agreement to block certain Russian banks from access to SWIFT (with Japan also agreeing the following day), to impose sanctions on Russia’s Central Bank, and to limit the ability of certain Russian nationals connected to the Russian government to obtain citizenship in their countries. They further agreed to ensure effective transatlantic coordination in implementing sanctions, including by sanctioning additional Russian entities and persons, and by working together and with other governments around the world to identify and freeze sanctioned Russian assets.

Continue Reading Biden Administration Imposes Sweeping Financial Sanctions, Export Controls after Russian Invasion of Ukraine