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 29, 2021, the PRC State Council’s Information Office (the Information Office) published a white paper on export controls, providing a comprehensive picture of China’s current legal and regulatory regime for export controls and potential future changes in export control governance. The document is China’s first white paper on export controls and comes approximately one year after the implementation of the PRC Export Control Law in December 2020.

On the same day, the PRC Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), which plays a central role in administering China’s export control regime for non-military items, issued a statement giving more information about the White Paper, while an unnamed MOFCOM official gave an interview to Chinese state-owned media discussing the White Paper in the context of PRC government policy with respect to multilateral export controls as well as China’s national security and development interests.

Continue Reading China’s First White Paper on Export Controls Summarizes Legal Developments, Opposes “Abuse” of Export Controls

On December 22, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued three general licenses (GLs) to authorize additional activities involving the Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan that would otherwise be prohibited under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations, 31 CFR part 594 (GTSR), the Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations, 31

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 December 6, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named one individual and 12 entities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gibraltar as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program under Executive Order (EO) 13818.

The newly designated SDNs are part of a network of individuals and companies alleged to have provided material “support to sanctioned billionaire Dan Gertler,” who was designated under EO 13818, in December 2017, for allegedly engaging in significant corruption in the DRC mining and oil sectors. There are now 46 persons designated under EO 13813 in connection with Gertler.

Continue Reading OFAC Sanctions DRC Associates of Sanctioned Billionaire in Conjunction with New Strategy on Countering Corruption and Global Magnitsky Designations

On December 6, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment on how FinCEN should regulate “all-cash” residential and commercial real estate transactions in the United States to address money laundering risks.

The ANPRM coincided with the publication of the Biden administration’s US Strategy on Countering Corruption, which highlights the real estate sector’s vulnerability to money laundering, particularly in regard to proceeds of foreign corruption. The Strategy also suggests the White House could work with Congress to adopt new regulations for other financial “gatekeepers” such as lawyers, accountants, and trust service providers who may facilitate transactions involving illicit property.

Continue Reading FinCEN Launches Rulemaking Process for All-Cash Real Estate Deals

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

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 August 20, 2021, the Biden administration issued a new Executive Order (“EO”) entitled “Blocking Property with Respect to Certain Russian Energy Export Pipelines.”  At the same time, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) added five entities and 13 vessels to the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (“SDN List”) under the new EO.

These developments – the latest in a series of US actions related to the Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines – suggest that the United States is attempting to strike a balance between formally opposing the Nord Stream 2 project and cooperating with major allies who favor the pipeline’s completion, such as Germany.  Importantly, the sanctions under the new EO are not as incrementally significant as they may seem: of the 18 new SDNs, all but four (two entities and two vessels) were already subject to sanctions under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 as amended (“PEESA”), which were imposed in May 2021 and were virtually identical to the new sanctions.  Rather than reflecting a more aggressive US stance in opposition to Nord Stream 2, the new EO appears to be driven primarily by legal technicalities including a limitation on the sanctions that could be imposed under PEESA.

Continue Reading A Pipeline Runs Through It: US Government Strikes Delicate Balance on Nord Stream 2 with New Executive Order, Four Sanctions Designations

On June 24, 2021, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) pursuant to 19 USC 1307 against Xinjiang, China-based Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltd. and its subsidiaries (Hoshine). The WRO instructs CPB personnel to detain shipments of silica-based products produced by Hoshine and its subsidiaries, including “materials and goods (such as polysilicon) derived from or produced using those silica-based products.”

On the same day, the US Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) added Hoshine Silicon Industry (Shanshan) Co., Ltd  and four other Xinjiang-based companies to the Entity List based on allegations of their participation “in the practice of, accepting, or utilizing forced labor” in their production processes.

On June 23, 2021, the Department of Labor (DOL) published a Federal Register notice updating its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor  (TVPRA List) to include polysilicon from China.

Meanwhile, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) advanced a bill that, if passed, would impose additional restrictions on the importation of goods from China’s Xinjiang Province.

Continue Reading Biden Administration Targets Xinjiang-based Solar Companies over Labor Allegations