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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On September 25, OFAC designated four additional Venezuelan officials as “Specially Designated Nationals” (“SDNs”), blocking all of their assets and prohibiting any transaction in which they have an interest within U.S. jurisdiction. The new designations target important former and current officials in the Venezuelan government who have supported President Nicolas Maduro, whom OFAC designated on July 31, 2017. The newly designated officials include: Cilia Adela Flores de Maduro, the current First Lady and former Attorney General under Hugo Chavez; Delcy Eloina Rodriguez Gomez, the Executive Vice President and former President of the National Constituent Assembly (“ANC”); Jorge Jesus Rodriguez Gomez, the Minister of Popular Power for Communication and Information; and Vladimir Padrino Lopez, the Sectoral Vice President of Political Sovereignty, Security, and Peace. In addition, OFAC also designated a network supporting Diosdado Cabello Rondon’s “key front man,” Rafael Alfredo Sarria.
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On August 8, 2018, the U.S. Department of State announced in a press release that in reaction to the use of the nerve agent “Novichok” in the attempted assassination of UK citizens Sergei and Yulia Skripal, the United States would introduce sanctions on the Russian Government under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination act of 1991 (the “CBW Act”).  The State Department announced that the sanctions will take effect on or around August 22, 2018.
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On 18 May 2018, the European Commission announced its intention to expand Council Regulation (EC) 2271/96 of 22 November 1996 (the “Blocking Regulation”) in order to discourage European companies from complying with newly re-imposed U.S. Iran-related sanctions. On 6 June 2018, the European Commission adopted a delegated regulation to enact these changes, which will come into force by 6 August 2018 (the date when the first wind-down period for the U.S. secondary sanctions on Iran expires), provided the EU Parliament and Council do not have objections.

This blogpost considers how the Blocking Regulation will work in practice for UK and European companies, in particular in light of the UK’s departure from the European Union (“EU”) in 2019.
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On July 19, 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) confirmed through issuance of two new FAQs that Executive Order 13835 prohibits U.S. persons from attaching and executing judgments against equity collateral securing debt issued by Government of Venezuela state-owned entities, even if both the debt and the security interest pre-date sanctions.  Specifically, Subsection 1(a)(iii) of the Executive Order prohibits “[a]ll transactions related to, provision of financing for, and other dealings in…the sale, transfer, assignment, or pledging as collateral by the Government of Venezuela of any equity interest in any entity in which the Government of Venezuela has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest.”  As we noted in a prior post, this prohibition is not limited to debt incurred or collateral pledged after the date of the Executive Order and so prevents executing on any collateral securing Government of Venezuela debt consisting of equity in state-owned or state-controlled entities absent a license from OFAC.
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