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Meredith Rathbone focuses on export controls and economic sanctions, and has assisted clients in the energy, manufacturing, telecommunications, information security, banking, insurance, pharmaceutical, and service industries, among many others, in navigating the requirements of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and US sanctions regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and US Department of State. She regularly assists companies in developing compliance policies, conducting internal investigations, performing training, and conducting due diligence in M&A transactions. She has represented individuals and companies facing civil and criminal investigations in this area, and has also represented clients in their efforts to be removed from OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). She is a frequent writer and speaker on export controls and sanctions topics. She is the co-chair of the American Bar Association’s Export Controls and Economic Sanctions Committee, and also serves on the Sanctions Subcommittee of the State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy.

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On February 21, 2022, the White House issued a new Executive Order (EO) imposing comprehensive sanctions on the disputed Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine following President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that Russia would recognize the independence of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and place Russian military forces in those territories for purported peacekeeping operations.

The new EO prohibits:

  • new investment in the DNR or LNR by US persons, wherever located;
  • the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of any goods, services, or technology from the DNR or LNR;
  • the exportation, reexportation, sale, or supply, directly or indirectly, from the United States, or by a US person, wherever located, of any goods, services, or technology to the DNR or the LNR; and
  • any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a US person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited if performed by a US person or within the United States.


Continue Reading White House Announces First Sanctions after Russia Enters Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk Regions

Economic sanctions and export controls will form a core part of any multilateral response to an escalation of Russia’s military actions targeting Ukraine. While it is not possible to predict with certainty whether an escalation will occur or what form the responsive measures would take, this blog post outlines some of the current US sanctions proposals and authorizations to assist companies in taking preliminary steps to assess their potential exposure.

As of January 2022, none of the United States, the EU, or the UK have implemented any new, significant Russia-related sanctions or export control measures concerning Russia’s recent military buildup near the Russia-Ukraine border. Based on events in 2014 and the sanctions that ensued, companies could face rapid and potentially disruptive regulatory restrictions with wide-ranging impacts on a variety of industries. Some measures could be imposed within hours of a triggering event, or even prior to a specific triggering event. The US, EU, and UK are likely to coordinate a sanctions response to some extent, but some variations across different jurisdictions’ sanctions measures are also to be expected.  According to reports, policymakers have yet to agree on the triggers for new sanctions, and diplomatic efforts are ongoing.

Continue Reading Preparing for New Russia-Related Sanctions and Export Controls

On December 8, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $133,860 settlement with an unnamed individual for apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). According to OFAC’s settlement notice, the individual, who was located in the United States, received four payments in his personal bank account on behalf of an Iranian company for the sale of Iranian-origin cement clinker to a company in a third country.

OFAC also found that the individual coordinated the payment and the shipment of goods with a family member at the Iranian company. The settlement notice remarks that, although the payments involved a family member, they fell outside of the general license for personal remittances, at 31 CFR § 560.550, which only applies to “noncommercial” activity.

Continue Reading OFAC Enters into Rare Settlement with Individual over Iranian Payments and Facilitation

On November 15, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Public Ministry of Nicaragua and nine Nicaraguan government officials as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13851 and the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 (NHRAA). According to a Treasury Department press release, the designations respond to the Nicaraguan government’s repression of opposition politicians leading up to “sham” elections in November 2021.

Among the designated persons is a senior banking regulatory official in Nicaragua, which underscores the risk to financial institutions in particular seeking to navigate US sanctions risks while operating in Nicaragua.

Continue Reading OFAC Designates Nicaraguan Officials after “Sham Elections”

On November 12, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Eritrean Defense Forces, the Eritrean People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), two government-linked commercial entities, the head of the Eritrean National Security Office, and a prominent political advisor as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 14046 of September 17, 2021, in response to the ongoing military conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. These are the first designations made under the EO and OFAC’s recently adopted Ethiopia-related sanctions program.

According to a Treasury Department news release, the designations target Eritrean actors that have contributed to the situation in northern Ethiopia and “undermined the stability and integrity of the Ethiopian state.”

Continue Reading US Government Targets Eritrea with Sanctions over Ethiopia Crisis

On October 18, 2021, the US Treasury Department published a report of its 2021 Sanctions Review of economic and financial sanctions implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) since September 11, 2001. The next day, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo delivered a summary of the report in testimony before the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

The review, which incorporates feedback from public and private stakeholders, together with Adeyemo’s testimony underscores the Treasury Department’s concern that the effectiveness of US sanctions could erode over time as non-US actors seek alternatives to the US financial system, including digital currencies and alternative payment platforms outside of US jurisdiction.  The report observes that not only adversaries but also “some allies” are reducing their use of the US dollar in cross-border transactions, implying that unilateral US actions are contributing to the risk that US sanctions could become less effective.  To counter this trend, the report lays out a five-point plan to “modernize sanctions” by enhancing the Treasury Department’s policy framework and processes for imposing, enforcing, and revising US sanctions.

Continue Reading Changes Ahead? US Treasury Publishes Outcomes of Sanctions Policy Review

They have been almost a decade in the making, but have finally arrived: new U.S. export controls on “cybersecurity items,” including products and technology involving “intrusion software” and IP network communications surveillance.  Published today but effective January 19, 2022, the interim final rule from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) amends the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) to add these new cybersecurity export controls.  The interim final rule is highly technical and complex, but ultimately contains a mix of good news and bad for the cybersecurity community.  BIS states in its press announcement that the rule is only intended to restrict “malicious cyber activities,” but it nonetheless imposes compliance obligations and costs even when activities ultimately are not restricted.  At least in this sense, the rule will impact the entire cybersecurity sector.

Continue Reading Cybersecurity Community Beware: US Finally Enacts “Intrusion Software” Rule

On October 15, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued anticipated Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry and updated two related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs 559 and 646).  OFAC has published industry-specific guidance for only a handful of other industries in the past two decades; the new guidance demonstrates the agency’s increasing focus on the virtual currency (VC) sector.  It also clarifies US sanctions compliance practices in ways that could lay a foundation for future OFAC enforcement actions.

OFAC’s guidance was announced as part of broader US government enforcement priorities to combat ransomware, money laundering, and other financial crimes in the virtual currency sector, as noted in the Department of Justice’s recent announcement of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team.  The OFAC guidance was published in tandem with a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) analysis of ransomware trends in suspicious activity reporting, but the guidance is directed at the VC industry in general and is not specific to ransomware.  A ransomware actor who demands VC may or may not be a target of OFAC sanctions, and sanctioned actors may engage in a wide variety of VC transactions that do not involve ransomware.  The recommended compliance practices in OFAC’s new guidance are focused on the full range of sanctions risks that arise from virtual currencies.

Continue Reading OFAC Issues Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry

On September 21, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) issued an updated advisory on the sanctions risks of facilitating ransomware payments.  OFAC issued a prior version of its advisory on October 1, 2020. In the months since, attacks have continued and target entities in the United States, including many in sensitive industries, generating increased concern over the scale of the problem. OFAC’s updated advisory is part of the Biden administration’s ongoing efforts to address the national security and economic risks posed by such attacks. The updated advisory emphasizes that OFAC “strongly discourages” victims from making ransom payments and reemphasizes the sanctions risks of doing so, but also seeks to provide victims with greater clarity about the steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of a public enforcement response if a company inadvertently makes or facilitates ransom payments that may have a sanctions nexus.

Continue Reading OFAC Issues Revised Ransomware Advisory

On September 24, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License 14 (GL-14) and General License 15 (GL-15), authorizing certain types of humanitarian transactions involving Afghanistan that could relate to the Taliban or the Haqqani Network that would otherwise be prohibited by the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR), the Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations (FTOSR), or Executive Order (EO) 13224.

Both the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are designated by OFAC as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to EO 13224. The Haqqani Network is also designated by the US Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Furthermore, several of the individual members of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are designated by OFAC as SDGTs.

These groups have recently taken control of, and appointed officials (including at least one individual designated as an SDGT) to administer, the Government of Afghanistan and its associated agencies and organizations.  As a result, there are concerns that interactions with the Government of Afghanistan could be prohibited to the extent they involve a person subject to US sanctions or expose parties to broader risks under US counter-terrorism financing laws.

Continue Reading OFAC’s New Afghanistan-Related Humanitarian Licenses: Opportunities and Challenges