The Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department recently issued a series of instructive press releases regarding enforcement actions taken against several companies.  The decision to publicize these enforcement actions could signal a more activist and expansionist approach to sanctions enforcement matters and may evidence a broadening of OFAC’s enforcement priorities as the long run of enforcement against financial institutions begins to wind down.  The actions demonstrate a focus on acquisition due diligence and conduct by overseas entities, and in particular on aggressive action against U.S. companies who fail to terminate sanctioned business by their newly acquired overseas subsidiaries; indeed, in a number of these cases OFAC took enforcement action despite the fact that the U.S. acquiror explicitly directed the termination of the sanctioned business, was deceived by officials of the acquired entity, and voluntarily self-reported the violation after discovering it.  OFAC has also begun to spell out, in enforcement actions, the elements of sanctions compliance programs it imposes on violators (and, presumably, would consider a benchmark for other companies).
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On February 1, 2019, the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued FAQs providing guidance on the designation of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. under Executive Order 13850 and concurrent issuance of related general licenses. OFAC also issued amended general licenses governing secondary trading of pre-sanctions Government of Venezuela and PdVSA debt (General

OFAC has clarified that, pursuant to the terms of General License 14 and General License 16, it still expects all U.S. persons who participated in transactions with United Company Rusal PLC, EN+ Group PLC, JSC EuroSibEnergo, or their subsidiaries in reliance on the general licenses during the period when these entities were SDNs (April

On January 28, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control designated Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A.; effective immediately PdVSA is on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List and all of its assets within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked.

Simultaneously, OFAC issued a number of general licenses intended to mitigate the

On November 28, 2018, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) identified for the first time digital currency addresses associated with sanctioned persons.  The newly sanctioned individuals, Iran-based Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan, were accused of converting digital currency payments into Iranian rial as part of a widespread ransomware scheme.  Since 2015, the ransomware scheme (known as “SamSam”) has infected the data networks of corporations, hospitals, universities, and government agencies.  According to OFAC’s announcement, the identified bitcoin addresses were used with over 40 digital currency exchangers to process more than 7,000 illicit transactions in bitcoins worth millions of U.S. dollars.
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Over the past few months a number of developments have highlighted the growing pressure in favour of reactive sanctions implementation in the EU and the UK.

New EU chemical weapons sanctions regime

On October 15, 2018, the Council of the EU adopted a new programme of restrictive measures (Council Regulation (EU) 2018/1542). Where necessary to address the use or proliferation of chemical weapons, the EU is now able to impose asset freezes and travel bans on persons and entities anywhere, regardless of their nationality and location, and forbid EU persons and entities from making funds available to them.


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In recent years, sanctions have become one of the issues of greatest concern for parties entering into international transactions. As a result, detailed contractual clauses designed to manage sanctions risks have become commonplace. The October 2018 judgment of the High Court in Mamancochet Mining v. Aegis Managing Agency[1] (the “Judgment”) has highlighted certain pitfalls in the standard wording of some sanctions clauses, and should be heeded by any party seeking to contractually protect itself from sanctions risks by, for example, making its performance under the contract conditional upon the non-occurrence of certain sanctions events, or tying a termination event to sanctions. The Judgment also casts some light on the interpretation of the EU Blocking Regulation[2] and suggests exercising contractual rights (even ones designed to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions) does not breach the Blocking Regulation.
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