Over the past month, we have closely monitored efforts by the U.S. Congress to tie the president’s hands over sanctions on Russia. Today, the president signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA or the Act), which will have a significant impact on numerous U.S. industries operating in Russia. And Russia’s response to the legislation indicates that further tensions between the United States and Russia – and possibly additional sanctions on both sides – are likely to follow.
- Penalty imposed against Exxon related to contracts with Russian oil company Rosneft
- Rosneft is not a prohibited party but its president is
- OFAC alleges that “senior-most” Exxon management were involved
- Exxon responds with suit against OFAC
On July 20, 2017, the U.S. Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that ExxonMobil (Exxon) must pay a $2 million penalty for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia. On the same day, Exxon responded by suing OFAC.
I provided insight for an article published by The New York Times on the $2 million fine that the U.S. Treasury Department charged Exxon Mobil for violating Russian sanctions. Exxon apparently entered into eight contracts with Rosneft, the Russian state oil company, signed by Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, who is a prohibited party under U.S. sanctions on Russia. Exxon was apparently under the impression that the Rosneft CEO could sign the contracts so long as the company was not doing business with him individually. The Treasury Department’s announcement of the penalty refers to the involvement in the matter of Exxon’s “senior-most” executives, which would seem to include Rex Tillerson, who was Exxon’s CEO at the time and is now the U.S. Secretary of State. Exxon has subsequently sued the Treasury Department related to this matter.
The full article, “Stakes for Exxon in Sanctions Case Go Far Beyond a $2 Million Fine,” was published by The New York Times on July 21, 2017, and is available online.
- Proposed legislation would extend sanctions on Russia and Iran
- New restrictions aimed at Russian energy sector and cybercriminals
- Legislation may pit Senate against House and the president
On June 19, 2017, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill mandating sanctions against Russia and Iran and a 30-day congressional review period should the president attempt to reduce those sanctions.
The bill remains in the House after congressional leaders challenged the fact that the revenue-raising bill did not originate in the House. The White House nonetheless is in the unenviable position of having to defend (or oppose) the implementation of sanctions against both Iran and Russia while attempting to conduct diplomacy with the Kremlin. With a veto-proof majority in at least one chamber, the president’s options appear limited.
I provided insights for an article in Compliance Reporter discussing the Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Counterfeiting Act of 2017 and the heightened compliance measures financial institutions may face if the bill is passed in the Senate. The bill would put forth an increased ability for regulators to crack down on questionable activity occurring beyond U.S. borders by reviewing records of coordinating institutions stateside.
- California company accused of sanctions violations challenges U.S. Treasury Department
- Appeals court generally sides with government but remands because of arbitrary and capricious decision related to five alleged violations
- Traditional interpretation of “inventory exception” is considered by Court
It is rare for companies to go to court to fight penalties imposed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for violations of U.S. sanctions. It is even more rare for a court to make any sort of finding against the agency. Yet that is exactly what happened when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (D.C. Circuit) recently considered OFAC’s imposition of penalties against Epsilon Electronics (Epsilon) for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran.
- American Honda Finance Corporation pays for alleged violations of U.S. sanctions on Cuba
- Violation committed by American Honda’s subsidiary in Canada
- Penalty underscores breadth of U.S. jurisdiction, importance of compliance reviews
On June 8, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a monetary penalty against American Honda Finance Corporation (American Honda) for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), the primary regulations by which the United States imposes economic sanctions on Cuba. A copy of the OFAC press release announcing the penalty is available here.
- Proposed legislation targets current gaps in U.S. financial crime law and enforcement
- Bi-partisan Senate legislation would likely expand compliance obligations for banks and others in financial services industry
- Proposed legislation is in line with U.S. and international efforts to fight terrorism and trafficking through economic sanctions and anti-money laundering (AML) rules
On May 25, 2017, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) introduced the “Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017” (the “Act”). The full text of the bill is available here.
I commented on an article published by PaymentsCompliance, a global leader in supporting the payments industry, on new legislation proposed in the U.S. Senate to target terrorism financing and money laundering. In the article, I point out that the proposed bill could create a greater compliance burden for banks and other financial entities and service providers. I also note that it is “nice to see a bipartisan effort to come up with something which most people would agree is a good measure.”
I co-authored an article with Heather Smith, Associate General Counsel and Secretary at Lydall, Inc., outlining best practices for companies to undertake to ensure successful export transactions. The article also discusses the relevant regulations and agencies governing and enforcing export activities, such as the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). As we point out in the article, “U.S. export and sanctions laws have a broad reach and can cover conduct occurring entirely outside the United States and actions undertaken by non-US parties.” It is therefore important that any company involved in export transactions be aware of and establish “a robust culture of compliance, including tone from the top and clear policies and procedures, [as] an essential part of effective compliance.”