Sanctions Top-5 for the week ending 2 October 2020

Here are five things that happened this week in the world of economic sanctions that I think you should know about.

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  1. After several weeks of politicking, the European Union adopted asset freezes and travel bans against 40 individuals in connection with the disputed presidential election in Belarus in August 2020 and repression of opposition protests. The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) followed suit by naming eight individuals as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) under Executive Order 13405 of 16 June 2006. Meanwhile, the UK and Canada announced sanctions against Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and seven others. (The EU did not sanction Lukashenko.)
  2. The Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) filed suit against US sanctions targeting the International Criminal Court (ICC) under Executive Order 13928. A copy of the OSJI’s complaint is available here. (The arguments are not unlike those made recently against the Trump administration’s WeChat- and TikTok-related Executive Orders, which were also adopted under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)). Meanwhile, OFAC published the International Criminal Court-Related Sanctions Regulations at 31 CFR Part 520.
  3. OFAC announced a USD 5,864,860 settlement with a New York-based travel insurance company for 2,593 apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to the OFAC settlement notice, the company knowingly made payments via a Canadian affiliate to cover claims made by Canadians traveling to Cuba between 2010 and 2015 (and had a procedure for it, to boot). The total penalty is about 20 times the value of the underlying payments which totaled USD 285,760.
  4. OFAC named three individuals and 13 entities as SDNs under Executive Orders 13582 and 13573, including a Syrian businessman and his telecommunications company, the head of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate, and the governor of Syria’s Central Bank. Meanwhile, the US State Department announced sanctions on a division of the Syrian Arab Army and two individuals who have provided financial support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife.
  5. OFAC issued a warning about sanctions risks when making payments to hackers to unlock computer systems frozen by ransomware attacks. The advisory recommends that parties who facilitate such payments, including banks and cyber-insurance providers, should adopt risk-based controls for identifying potential nexuses to sanctioned persons or territories. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued its own advisory discussing money laundering risks and reporting obligations associated with ransomware payments.


Happy Golden Week and a belated happy Mid-Autumn Festival. Fortunately, the weekend didn’t start with a major China-related sanctions development for once. Hopefully those of you in China and Hong Kong got some much needed rest and family time.

OFAC’s latest advisory underscores the catch-22 faced by victims of ransomware since cryptocurrency addresses were first added to the SDN List beginning in November 2018. What is a US person to do if their servers fall prey to sanctioned hackers? The advisory doesn’t offer much of a way out. It says: “Ransomware payments benefit illicit actors and can undermine the national security and foreign policy objectives of the United States. For this reason, license applications involving ransomware payments demanded as a result of malicious cyber-enabled activities will be reviewed by OFAC on a case-by-case basis with a presumption of denial.” Keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to click on a suspicious email attachment.

Thinking about November? Join us later today for the “US Election 2020: What’s in Store for Sanctions?” discussion panel hosted by RUSI and featuring Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Sascha Lohmann of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP Berlin), and me, moderated by RUSI’s Emil Dall. Tuesday, 6 October, at 2:00 p.m. London time. Register here.

Did I miss something? Send me a message or comment on LinkedIn.

(The views expressed are my own and do not constitute legal advice. Photo from Vladislav Reshetnyak.)

US attorney in Hong Kong specializing in economic sanctions, financial crimes. Sign up for emails: LinkedIn at: