By: Danielle Hatch
Before I get to the nitty gritty of this case its important to remember that companies can be held liable for sanctions violations when they export a product to a third-party in another country and know or have reason to know that the third party intends to reexport their product to Iran. Companies must do their due diligence to make sure that that third party who is receiving their products isn’t planning on sending them to Iran. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.
Note: This case was between the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Epsilon Electronics but Power Acoustik Electronics who is a subsidiary of Epsilon who engaged in the transactions in question.
Epsilon Electronics, also doing business as Power Acoustik Electronics, Sound Stream, Kole Audio, and precision Audio has agreed to pay $1.5 million to OFAC to settle the enforcement case related to alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). OFAC’s Penalty Notice alleged that Epilson violated the ITSR when it issued 39 invoices for sales to Asra Internationals LLC from 2008 to 2012 because Epsilon knew or had reason to know that Asra was distributing its products to Iran.
In 2008 OFAC found out that Power Acoustik exported items to an address in Iran. OFAC issued a subpoena and eventually sent the company a cautionary letter in 2012. During a separate investigation, OFAC uncovered wire transfers from Asra International (company located in Dubai) to Power Acoustik totaling more than $1.1 million between 2010 and 2011. OFAC believed that these wires may have been for products that were destined to Iran and they issued another subpoena to Power Acoustik. The company explained that they had 41 sales of audio and video equipment to Asra between 2008 and 2012 which explained the wire transfers. During a further investigation, OFAC did not directly find any proof that any of the equipment was reexported to Iran by Asra but they did find a website for Asra that specified that the company provided car audio and video products to Iran. The Iran affiliate’s address on Asra’s website was the same address as the 2008 address that OFAC initially sent a subpoena to Power Acoustik for, related to the illegal shipment.
OFAC then issued a Penalty Notice to Epsilon for $4 million based on 34 non-egregious violations (those that occurred before the 2012 cautionary letter) and 5 egregious violations (occurred after the cautionary letter). Epsilon challenged OFAC’s Penalty Notice in the US District Court for the District of Columbia and lost. The company than appealed the order to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia which affirmed the 34 non-egregious violations but reversed the 5 egregious violations to be non-egregious changing the penalty from $4 million to $1.5 million. The Court of Appeals found that an exporter may be found liable if it exports goods from the US to a third country, with reason to know that those goods are specifically intended for reexport to Iran, even if they never make it to Iran. The “reason to know” requirement for OFAC can be established “through a variety of circumstantial evidence” including “course of dealing, general knowledge of the industry or customer preferences, working relationships between parties, or other criteria far too numerous to enumerate.”
Up until 2011, Asra distributed to Iran exclusively, making the evidence on their website evidence for OFAC that Power Acoustik could have reasonably inferred that Asra only distributed its products to Iran. The Court of Appeals found that the final five exports didn’t fit the “reason to know” standard because OFAC did not address several emails between Acoustik’s sales team and an Asra manager between 2011-2012 which explained that their products were going to be sold from Asra’s new retail store in Dubai…causing the 5 violations to be changed.
OFAC saw the following as aggravating factors:
- The alleged violations constituted or resulted in a systematic pattern of conduct
- Epsilon exported goods valued at $2,823,000 or more
- Epsilon had no compliance program at the time of the alleged violations
OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:
- Epsilon has not received a Penalty Notice or a Finding of Violation in five years preceding the transactions that gave rise to the alleged violations
- Epsilon is a small business
- Epsilon provided some cooperation to OFAC, including entering into an agreement to toll the statute of limitations for one year
The important take away from this case is that, as most people already know, there is a very far-reaching interpretation of what constitutes “reason to know” when dealing with third parties and Iran (and Cuba).