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 March 16, 2023, HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) published an updated version of its Enforcement and Monetary Penalties for Breaches of Financial Sanctions Guidance (“OFSI Guidance”). The OFSI Guidance outlines OFSI’s compliance and enforcement approach as well as providing an overview of the civil monetary penalty regime and how potential financial sanctions breaches are assessed. The latest update to the OFSI Guidance sets out the framework within which OFSI will assess breaches of UK financial sanctions that flow from, or involve, an incorrect assessment of the ownership and control of an entity by a UK designated person.
The publication of the updated OFSI Guidance follows repeated calls for clarity regarding the ownership and control test and OFSI’s enforcement stance in relation to it, particularly following the significant expansion of the Consolidated List in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the UK’s introduction of strict civil liability for financial sanctions breaches in June 2022.Continue Reading OFSI Updates Enforcement and Monetary Penalty Guidance to Address the Assessment of Ownership and Control
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
The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has announced policy changes designed to strengthen its administrative enforcement of U.S. export controls. In a memorandum released on June 30, Matthew Axelrod, Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at BIS, outlined four new policy changes including (1) significantly higher penalties for egregious violations, (2) elimination of no admit/no deny settlements, (3) offering non-monetary settlement agreements in cases where the violations “do not reflect serious national security harm” but are more serious than cases that receive warnings or no-action letters, and (4) implementation of a dual-track processing system for Voluntary Self Disclosures (VSDs) involving minor or technical infractions and those involving potentially more serious violations. These changes have the potential to significantly increase export enforcement risks for U.S. and non-U.S. companies, and suggest it is time for exporters and reexporters to conduct internal audits, assessments, and monitoring for potential compliance gaps. It may be necessary for some exporters to consider tailoring and enhancing internal export compliance programs, processes, and resources to avoid costly penalties, investigations, business disruptions, and brand damage.
Continue Reading Revamping BIS’s Administrative Enforcement Authorities: Time to Consider More Investment in Internal Corporate Compliance
On June 15, 2022, the United Kingdom will introduce a strict civil liability standard for violations of UK financial sanctions committed after that date. In anticipation of this important change to the enforcement powers of HM Treasury’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI), the OFSI enforcement and monetary penalties for breaches of financial sanctions guidance (Monetary Penalties Guidance) has been updated and will take effect from June 15. OFSI Director, Giles Thomson, also has outlined OFSI’s enforcement approach in light of these imminent changes in a blog post.
For more information on how these developments could impact your organization, contact the author of this post, Alexandra Melia, in Steptoe’s Economic Sanctions team in London.Continue Reading UK Updates Sanctions Enforcement Guidance in Readiness for Imminent Introduction of Strict Civil Liability for Financial Sanctions Breaches
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
Since March 14, 2022, the United Kingdom has continued to introduce and announce new sanctions measures in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The new UK measures include sanctions enforcement powers under the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022, the designation of hundreds of individuals and entities under the UK’s Russia and Belarus sanctions regimes, the introduction of new general licences, the introduction and announcement of new sanctions measures, and the revision of various guidance documents.
Continue Reading A Summary of New UK Sanctions Enforcement Powers and Further Ukraine-related UK Sanctions on Russia and Belarus
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