The US Treasury Department, or presumably, its Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”), is expected to issue a report by mid-December under Section 5(b) of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act (“HKAA”) identifying “foreign financial institutions” (“FFIs”) that have knowingly conducted significant transactions with “foreign persons” previously identified by the US State Department under Section 5(a) of the HKAA on 14 October 2020. FFIs identified in the Section 5(b) Report will face a menu of ten sanctions, ranging from prohibitions on serving as a repository of US government funds to travel bans against corporate officers.

Prior to identification in the Section 5(b) Report and imposition of those sanctions, OFAC “will reach out to an FFI to inquire about its conduct,” according to FAQ 848 issued by OFAC in conjunction with the State Department’s 5(a) report.

While awaiting issuance of the Section 5(b) Report, and in addition to identifying any connection to individuals previously identified by the State Department, FFIs should consider how to respond if they receive an outreach from OFAC. Such an outreach, like any inquiry or request for information from OFAC, must be handled expeditiously and strategically. Inaccuracies or omissions in the response or the failure to respond at all could form the basis of enforcement action separate and apart from the conduct OFAC is reviewing under the HKAA. It will certainly set the tone for interactions with OFAC going forward.

In this note, we provide guidance on how to handle requests from OFAC under the HKAA, and more broadly to other informational outreach, based on our considerable experience in managing similar US government requests for clients in Asia.


Continue Reading Responding to the US Treasury Department’s Information Requests: The Hong Kong Autonomy Act and Beyond

In its 2019-2020 Annual Report (the Report), the UK’s sanctions office (the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI)) revealed that, between April 2019 and March 2020, it had received 140 voluntary disclosures of potential sanctions violations related to transactions worth a total of £982 million.  This represents a record number of reports, and an

On August 25, 2020, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) published a final decision by the Undersecretary, affirming an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) imposition of a US $ 31.4 million civil monetary penalty on Nordic Maritime Pte. Ltd., a Singapore-based marine seismic company, and its chairman (together, the “Respondents”), for knowingly exporting highly controlled equipment to Iran. This final decision follows the Undersecretary’s previous decision vacating and remanding the initial penalty as disproportionate to that imposed in similar cases (Remand Order). Our previous blog post discussing this unusual action is available here.

By way of background, the ALJ, in his initial recommended decision and order (RDO) dated February 7, 2020, found the Respondents liable for violating the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), and recommended a civil monetary penalty of US $ 31.4 million. The Respondents then appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Undersecretary, whose first decision, including the Remand Order, was published in March 2020. In that decision, the Undersecretary affirmed the ALJ’s findings on liability, but vacated the penalty and remanded it back to the ALJ for reexamination because the “analysis of damages in the RDO [was] incomplete.” The Undersecretary also listed a number of cases settled with proportionally lower penalties to guide the ALJ on remand. The ALJ then ordered additional briefing focused on the penalty amount, and reinstated the original penalty with a fuller justification in a subsequent RDO dated July 15, 2020. The Undersecretary affirmed the US $ 31.4 million civil monetary penalty in its entirety.


Continue Reading BIS Undersecretary Affirms USD 31.4 Million Penalty on Singaporean Company for Iran Sanctions Violations

According to public statements of high-ranking representatives, the EU is considering whether to impose new economic sanctions against Turkey. The measures discussed include targeting certain Turkish industry sectors, such as the energy industry.

On November 11, 2019 the Council of the EU  adopted a sanctions framework set forth in Council Regulation 2019/1890 and Council Decision 2019/1894, and subsequently designated two executives of the Turkish oil company TPAO on February 27, 2020, in response to Turkish hydrocarbon drilling activities in what the EU views as Cypriot territorial waters. The sanctions that are currently in place consist of a travel ban to the EU, an asset freeze for persons and entities, as well as a prohibition to satisfy claims for their benefit. In addition, EU persons and entities are forbidden from making funds and economic resources available to those listed.


Continue Reading EU Mulls New Economic Sanctions Against Turkey

On August 27, 2020, the US Department of Defense (“DoD”) published a second tranche to its list of “Communist Chinese military companies,” pursuant to Section 1237 of the of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999 (the “DoD List”).

The announcement follows the DoD’s June 24, 2020, publication of a letter to Senator Tom Cotton enclosing a list of twenty companies headquartered in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) which DoD determined are operating directly or indirectly in the United States and are “Communist Chinese military companies.”

(Click here for Steptoe’s blog post following the June 24, 2020 publication of the DoD letter.)


Continue Reading Update: US Department of Defense Publishes Update to List of “Communist Chinese Military Companies”

On June 24, 2020, the US Department of Defense (“DoD”) sent a letter to Senator Tom Cotton enclosing a list of twenty companies headquartered in the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) which DoD determined are operating directly or indirectly in the United States and are “Communist Chinese military companies.”  Titled “Qualifying Entities Prepared in Response to Section 1237 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999 (PUBLIC LAW 105-261),” the “DoD List” includes some Chinese companies frequently associated with the Chinese military, and others that may not have been previously associated with the Chinese military.

For companies doing business with the US government, the US government may consider the inclusion of any of the listed companies in a government contractor’s supply chain as a “supply chain risk” that must be assessed, particularly in connection with information technology.  DoD contractors are already prohibited by their contracts from acquiring certain items and services from “any Communist Chinese military company.”

While not a sanctions list itself, the DoD List may lead to sanctions actions by the US government, as well as reactions from business partners assessing the risk of further action against the listed companies by the US government, particularly for listed companies that are not currently subject to US sanctions.  Pressure from Congress may continue for the administration to continue to update this list, and to impose restrictions on the companies on this list.


Continue Reading US Department of Defense Publishes List of “Communist Chinese Military Companies” Operating Directly or Indirectly in United States Pursuant to Section 1237 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999 (the “Act”)

On June 5, 2020, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published four new Iran-related frequently asked questions (FAQs) regarding Executive Order (EO) 13902 of January 14, 2020, “Imposing Sanctions with Respect to Additional Sectors of Iran.”

In relevant part, EO 13902 authorizes sanctions against any person the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, determines to operate in the construction, mining, manufacturing, or textiles sectors in Iran (and any additional sectors that may in the future be designated by the US government). In addition, EO 13902 authorizes sanctions against any persons or foreign financial institutions engaged in sanctionable activity related to the targeted sectors such as providing material assistance to a blocked person or knowingly engaging in a significant transaction in connection with a targeted sector.


Continue Reading OFAC Clarifies Sanctions on Iranian Domestic Humanitarian / Safety Activity

It would be an understatement to describe the difference in fines levied by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) and the UK Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) as a gulf.  Prior to 31 March 2020, OFSI had concluded a total of three enforcement actions, the most significant of which resulted in a fine of just over £146,000.

By comparison, OFAC has levied nearly $9 million in fines in the first few months of 2020 and during the previous year levied nearly $1.3 billion in total.  The largest of these was a fine of $657 million that was handed down to Standard Chartered Bank (“Standard Chartered”) for violations of numerous sanctions regulations.  The majority of the OFAC settlement was part of a global settlement that included numerous US federal and state regulators, as well as the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (which handed out a £102 million fine for anti-money laundering breaches).


Continue Reading Standard Chartered fined £20.47 million; OFSI finally showing its teeth?

Click here to read the full Client Advisory by Steptoe.

In December 2019, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a revised policy regarding voluntary disclosure of export control and sanctions violations by business organizations (VSD Policy). The VSD Policy encourages business organizations – which now include financial institutions – to self-disclose “all

On December 31, 2019, the US District Court for the Northern District of Texas threw out a $2 million fine issued in 2017 by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations (URSR), 31 C.F.R. § 589.  The much-awaited opinion held that OFAC did not provide “fair notice” that the URSR prohibited dealing in contracts signed by a sanctioned individual on behalf of a non-sanctioned company, prior to the issuance of the penalty.

In reaching its decision, the Court concluded that the language of the URSR did not “’fairly address’ whether a US entity receives a service from [a Specially Designated National (SDN)] when that SDN performs a service enabling the US person to contract with a non-blocked entity.” Moreover, public statements made by relevant US government officials in 2014—some of which could be read to conflict—did not “create ascertainable certainty” of OFAC’s intention with respect to the URSR’s application. (The Court also held that contemporaneous reports by media outlets were not probative of OFAC’s regulatory intent.)


Continue Reading District Court Throws Out OFAC Penalty, Citing Due Process, Unclear Regulations