Doug Jacobson of International Trade Law News reports from today's OFAC breakout session:
Dennis Wood, OFAC's Assistant Director for Compliance, Outreach and Implementation, opened the program by providing some interesting quotes from the bible, the U.K. Government and others on compliance-related issues.
--Dennis noted that in January 2006 OFAC published enforcement guidelines for financial institutions, which are equally applicable to exporters. He mentioned that is likely that OFAC will make the enforcement guidelines "generic", i.e., applicable to all companies, in the future.
--He also noted that OFAC has authority to "visit" companies and that such outreach activities will continue.
--Dennis mentioned the ABN Amro enforcement case which led to the imposition of an $80 million penalty on the bank. In that case OFAC partnered with a number of other regulatory agencies to impose a multitude of penalties. He predicts that future fines will be increased as a result of inter-agency efforts to address compliance failures.
--After donning an OFAC jacket, Dennis turned the podium over to Hans Huber, a member of OFAC's compliance and outreach division.
--Hans presented an overview of OFAC's programs to the uninitiated. Hans presented a useful comparison between sanctions and export controls.
--Hans noted that the USA Patriot Act has increased awareness of what OFAC does.
--OFAC jurisdiction is broad and applies to U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens located anywhere in the world or any individual physically located in the U.S., such as a Chinese national located in the U.S. With respect to companies, the issue of foreign subsidiaries is often the most problematic. Such decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, but OFAC could always take action against the U.S. parent if the subsidiary is beyond the reach of U.S. jurisdiction.
--Next, Hans discussed the comprehensive sanctions on Cuba, Iran and Sudan. Hans noted that his PowerPoint slide discussing comprehensive sanctions sent someone to jail as a result of an indirect export to Iran. When OFAC conducted a search of the target company, they found a copy of Hans' presentation which noted that Iran was a prohibited destination.
--Regarding North Korea, be sure to watch OFAC's website for any changes to the existing sanctions regime on North Korea.
--Hans noted that the U.S. Government is good at making acronyms and lists. The list of specially designated nationals and blocked persons (aka the SDN list) currently includes over 3,000 unique entities identified by OFAC.
--Next, Susan Hutner of OFAC's licensing division was introduced. She started by talking about Sudan, which changed dramatically on Friday. The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act restricts the President from lifting current sanctions and restricts OFAC from implementing certain sanctions on Southern Sudan. The new executive order issued by President Bush reimposed sanctions on the Government of Sudan. It also prohibits all transactions by U.S. persons relating to Sudan's petroleum or petrochemical industries, including, but not limited to, oilfield services and oil or gas pipelines. The problematic issue is that transshipments through Northern Sudan are still restricted, which further complicates transactions. Continue to watch OFAC's website for more information.
--Regarding the Palestinian Authority (PA), there are a number of general licenses that authorize certain transaction with the PA. Sanctions are not territorial, but apply to transactions with the PA (the government of West Bank and Gaza).
--The next speaker was David Brummond, one of OFAC's newest employees. David OFAC's senior sanctions advisor on insurance and will be responsible for working on insurance-related sanctions issues. He will be looking at a holistic and integrated approach to insurance-related sanctions violations.
--David noted that Lloyds uses a risk-based approach to determining risks to marine insurance. These lessons are useful in the enforcement of sanctions.
-OFAC issues associated with sanctions often relate to situations where purchaser of insurance is a prohibited party. Most issues relate to transactions with country-based programs of Cuba, Iran and Sudan.
Sanctions programs are so broad they will implicate the insurance associated with the goods. This is because OFAC prohibits transactions "related to" or "dealing in" goods or services. The insurer can be caught by sanctions due to the prohibition on facilitation. OFAC has faced a number of issues with reinsurance. OFAC hopes to clarify this issue in the future.
--Regarding best practices, he recommend including exclusions for sanctioned shipments in policies. Also need to exclude goods, parties, vessels and locations.
--Finally, David noted that risk-based compliance is important in the insurance business, which itself uses a risk-based approach to setting premiums.
--Next, Hans noted that another new topic is trade-related sanctions busting, such as trade-based money laundering activities. Techniques include collusion between the importer and exporter to over- or under-invoice the value of goods and services. Discussed some of the red flags to watch out for in transactions.
-- Allison Cooper, Chief of OFAC's investigation unit, discussed some compliance-related horror stories that led to enforcement actions. The common theme in each of theme will be a systemic breakdown in compliance. She also discussed some red flags, such as making sure that Iranian flag vessels are not involved in the shipment. She noted that most of the issues arose as a result of the payment for goods. Many of the enforcement actions also relate to subsidiaries of U.S companies.
--Regarding penalties and consequences, Hans noted that the proposed penalty is going to be the statutory maximum or the value of the goods. OFAC will take into account aggravating and mitigating factors.
--Regarding effective compliance strategies, the foundation to compliance is to screen the parties to the transaction. If you have a screening hit, the exporter has to do the necessary due diligence to determine if the hit is the intended target or not. For example, Hans noted that Cuba City, Wisconsin is not a prohibited destination.
--Exporters must ensure that their sanctions information is up-to-date.Sanctions are dynamic and changes to sanctions regimes must closely monitored.
--The last presentation related to issues relating to Cuba financing.
The speaker from OFAC's general counsel office said to keep in mind three main rules. First, the Cuba embargo is a country embargo, not a list-based embargo. Second, the general license for activities incident to BIS-authorized exports does not cover transactions that are not tied to a specific export. Third, the general license for financing agricultural sales does not allow the use of a letter of credit issued by a Cuban owned or controlled bank, wherever located.
--Unfortunately, only a few minutes were available for questions and only a few basic answers were provided. However, OFAC staff said they would be available to discuss issues with attendees at lunch or by telephone.