Archive for the ‘Violations & Fines’ Category

CEO Pleads Guilty to Export Violations and Agrees to Pay $17 Million

2018/12/23

By: Danielle Hatch

Eric Baird, former owner and CEO of Access USA Shipping, LLC d/b/a MyUS.com (Access USA), had his criminal plea accepted by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) on December 12, 2018. BIS imposed a civil penalty of $17 million, with $7 million suspended, along with a 5-year denial of export privileges with one year being suspended. This is historically the largest penalty to be paid to BIS by an individual.

Are you wondering what this guy must have done to get the largest personal penalty? He went out of his way to hide illegal exports from the government…something they really frown upon. Baird founded Access USA and developed the business model of providing foreign customers with a US address so that they could acquire US origin items for export without alerting US merchants of the item’s ultimate destinations. Baird created policies and practices where it was normal for the values and descriptions of items on export documentation to be falsely identified. At one point, laser sights for firearms were described as “tools and hardware,” and rifle scopes were described as “sporting goods” or “tools, hand tools.” Baird even created a personal shopper program where Access USA employees purchased items for foreign customers from a shopping list and presented themselves as the domestic end users. At one point, Baird and Access USA employees were personally paying for the items and being reimbursed later by their foreign customers.

Access USA’s Chief Technology Officer emailed Baird in 2011 saying, “I know we are WILLINGLY AND INTENTIONALLY breaking the law.” In the same email thread Baird said, “if warned by the government,” then the company “can stop ASAP.”

Access USA settled with BIS in 2017 and agreed to a penalty of $27 million with $17 million suspended. You can read an article outlining the charges at: https://www.learnexportcompliance.com/blog/2017/03/30/florida-company-fined-27-million-for-150-intentional-ear-violations/

Department of Justice: https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/pr/former-florida-ceo-pleads-guilty-export-violations-and-agrees-pay-record-17-million


OFAC Dings U.S. Defense Contractor for Sanctions Violations, Inadequate Screening

2018/12/23

By: Thad McBride on December 12, 2018

POSTED IN INTERNATIONAL TRADESANCTIONS (OFAC)

  • Penalties imposed for violations of U.S. sanctions on Russia and Ukraine
  • Violations identified during pre-acquisition due diligence on contractor
  • Denied persons screening was conducted but missed prohibited parties

In late November 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that Cobham Holdings, Inc. agreed to pay $87,507 to settle violations of U.S. sanctions on Ukraine and Russia.

Violations Identified During Pre-acquisition Due Diligence

According to OFAC, the violations were committed by Cobham’s former subsidiary, Metelics, prior to the sale of Metelics to MACOM. It was MACOM that identified the violations during due diligence related to its acquisition of Metelics. And it was presumably MACOM that required Cobham to make the voluntary disclosure to OFAC that led to the penalty in this matter.

The penalty is small by recent OFAC standards. (For example, it is about 620 times less than Societe Generale paid to OFAC as part of its global settlement of sanctions violations.)

But as a cautionary tale, the Cobham matter is important to any exporter.

Products Sold to Entity Blocked Under U.S. Sanctions

According to OFAC, during a six-month period in 2014 and 2015, Metelics sold products through distributors in Canada and Russia to a blocked entity under U.S. sanctions. That entity – Almaz Antey Telecommunications LLC (AAT) – was not explicitly named as a blocked party on the OFAC List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (the SDN List).

Yet AAT was nonetheless a blocked person because it was 51 percent-owned by a party – JSC Almaz-Antey – that was named on the SDN List. As OFAC has made abundantly clear, any entity that is owned 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons is a blocked entity itself.

Any blocked person, whether named on the SDN List or not, is effectively off limits to U.S. companies and individuals.

Screening Challenges Lead to Violations

The chronology of this matter demonstrates the challenges exporters face when screening third party business parties.

According to OFAC, on June 18, 2014, Metelics agreed to sell products to AAT through a Canadian distributor. On June 19, Metelics screened AAT against its prohibited parties screening software. At that time, JSC Almaz-Antey was not a prohibited party – and thus neither was AAT.

On June 27, Metelics shipped products to AAT. In connection with that shipment, Metelics again conducted denied parties screening and identified no match for AAT.

None of this is surprising or problematic from OFAC’s standpoint because JSC Almaz-Antey was not designated as an SDN until July 16, 2014. That is when things get more interesting.

On July 31, 2014, Metelics made another shipment to AAT. In connection with this shipment, Metelics again conducted denied parties screening for AAT and again did not identify any matches – even though JSC Almaz-Antey, the majority owner of AAT, was now named on the SDN List.

Based on this, OFAC deemed the screening effort to be insufficient. OFAC emphasized that Metelics proceeded with shipment to AAT “despite the inclusion of two uncommon terms [‘Almaz’ and ‘Antey’] in the names of both the SDN and [AAT].” OFAC’s statement suggests that the screening software should have identified at least a potential match, which Metelics would presumably have reviewed further before continuing with the transaction.

Notably, there is no indication that Metelics somehow set the software or screening mechanism to avoid identifying a match with AAT. In fact, in its press release, OFAC states that the screening software was set-up to identify “fuzzy” search criteria yet missed the similarities between AAT and JSC Almaz-Antey.

It thus appears that Metelic was not entirely to blame for these apparent violations. Yet in explaining the penalty in this case, OFAC also notes that Metelics “was subject to a consent agreement for violations of the International Traffic in Arms Regulations [ITAR]… resulting from recurring compliance failures.” Arguably those ITAR compliance failures should have made Metelics particularly vigilant about protecting against failures with its screening system.

While OFAC does not name the provider of the screening software in this case, the agency does state that “[p]ersons employing sanctions screening software should take steps to ensure it is sufficiently robust.” In other words, simply because a company uses software to conduct screening does not mean that software is adequate to protect against violations.

Analysis

This may be a tough lesson for exporters to absorb.  It’s not clear that many exporters conduct quality control checks of their screening software. The raison d’etre for such software is to identify actual or potentially prohibited parties based on name similarities. That is exactly what Metelics expected its software to do.

The proliferation of prohibited and restricted parties – and the lists of such parties – makes it impossible for most companies to keep up-to-date with those lists on their own. That’s the reason so many companies seek software solutions to help meet their compliance obligations. It is the responsible thing to do.

Which makes it a little jarring to read the following exhortation from OFAC:

It is essential that companies engaging in international transactions maintain a culture of compliance where front line staff are encouraged to follow up on sanctions issues, including by promptly reporting to compliance personnel transactions suspected to involve sanctioned parties.

That is surely good advice but it is not clear how it pertains to the facts in the Cobham matter. There is no indication that any Metelics employee was aware of a transaction suspected to involve sanctioned parties – or that any employee ducked their head in the sand.

Nevertheless, it is useful to remember the value of periodic risk assessments during which compliance policies, procedures, and processes are reviewed. Potential weaknesses can be identified and addressed before they lead to violations.

The Bass, Berry & Sims trade lawyers work closely with clients to assist in risk assessments and other compliance exercises. Our targeted, efficient approach to such matters leads to practical, effective solutions. Feel free to contact us anytime if we can assist you.

Article: https://www.bassberrygovcontrade.com/ofac-dings-u-s-defense-contractor-for-sanctions-violations-inadequate-screening/


BIS Denies Export Privileges and OFAC Announces $2,774,972 Settlement with Jereh Group

2018/12/23

By: Danielle Hatch

The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced a settlement with Yantai Jereh Oilfield Services Group Co., Ltd., of Yantai Shandong Province, China (“Yantai Jereh”) in conjunction with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

BIS alleges that the company committed four violations of the EAR (Acting with knowledge of a violation and making false statements to BIS during the course of an investigation. Yantai Jereh has agreed to pay $600,000 to BIS and the company’s 5-year denial period will be suspended if the company pays the BIS fine, in addition to the penalty under their OFAC Settlement Agreement (details below). If at any time, the company commits any violations of the Regulations or fails to pay its penalties on time, BIS can revoke the denial suspension.

The settlement between the OFAC and Yantai Jereh is concurrent with the BIS settlement. The main difference is that the company had 11 violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations causing a much larger fine of $2,774,972. All 11 violations involved exportation or rexxeportation or the attempted exportation or reexportation of US goods to Iran by way of China. Two of the 11 shipments of oilfield equipment spare parts (coiled tubing strings and pump sets) were seized by US Customs and Border Protection before they left the US.

OFAC determined that the violations constituted an egregious case and the company did not voluntarily disclose their violations.

BIS Charging Letter: https://efoia.bis.doc.gov/index.php/documents/export-violations/export-violations-2018/1206-e2573/file

OFAC Settlement: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20181212.aspx


JPMorgan OFAC Sanctions Violations: Why Proactive Due Diligence Matters

2018/11/26

Written by Staff Restricted Party Screening Specialist

On October 5, 2018, JPMorgan Chase Bank (JPMC) reached a $5.26M settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for apparent OFAC violations dating between January 2008 and February 2012.

Included in the announcement was notification of separate OFAC violations related to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin and Syrian Sanctions Regulations that took place between August 2011 and April 2014.

Details about the earlier violations suggest that there were gaps in JPMC’s reporting and escalation processes (and that despite red flags, staff members allowed transactions to proceed). What’s noteworthy about second case, however, is not that JPMC staff allowed 85 prohibited transactions from six customers (and Specially Designated Nationals) to occur. Rather, it was the following:

  1. That the institution’s screening system failed to “identify customer names with hyphens, initials, or additional middle or last names as potential matches to similar or identical names on the SDN List,” and
  2. That JPMC employees did not further vet results despite similarities in name, addresses and dates of birth.

On the positive side, JPMorgan Chase self-identified the weakness in its screening tool and took remedial actions to correct—ultimately moving to a new screening system in 2013. Once implemented, they rescreened close to 200 million customer records, discovered the transactions in question, and ultimately reported the violations to OFAC.

DUE DILIGENCE WHEN IT COMES TO RISK IS WORTH IT

For an organization the size of JPMorgan Chase, a $5M financial settlement probably isn’t going to break the bank (no pun intended!). But the same may not be true for businesses without a similar bottom line to fall back on.

The later violation could have been avoided altogether if JPMC had set procedures in place—a match resolution workflow, for example. And some education that staff had a responsibility to take extra steps to further vet information in the event one or more search terms came back positive.

Despite the screening tool lacking the ability to recognize hyphens, initials, and additional middle or last names—though a good restricted and denied party screening solution should be able to account for this information—there was still enough readily-available data (e.g., matching dates of birth, etc.) that, upon review, would have indicated that the six account holders, and those on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List, were potentially one and the same.

ONE SENTENCE LESSON

Screening everyone and every transaction isn’t enough to be compliant with OFAC and other U.S. export, trade and financial compliance laws—positive matches should always be fully vetted and cleared before a transaction can take place, ideally in an environment with set procedures and systems in place.

Full Article: https://www.ecustoms.com/blog/?p=1626&p=1626


Texas Man Sentenced to 6 years in Prison for Cuba Embargo Violations

2018/10/30

By: Danielle Hatch

Bryan Evan Singer, 46, of Bryan Texas was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison on September 27, 2018 for attempting to export electronic devices to Cuba. On May 2, 2017 Singer was traveling from Stock Island, Florida to Havana, Cuba via his boat “La Mala” when law enforcement stopped him to conduct an outbound inspection of the boat. During the inspection, Singer explained that he was only taking items to Cuba that were on the deck of his boat and that the value of the items was less than $2,500 (possibly suspicious or a red flag). Law enforcement continued to search the boat and found a hidden compartment under a bolted down bed in the cabin where they discovered over $30,000 worth of electronic devices. Of those devices, there were 300 Ubiquiti Nanostation Network devices which allow for highly encrypted connections between computer networks over long distances, making a license required to export them to Cuba.

Singer did not apply for a license for the items…in case you didn’t already guess that.

Justice: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl/pr/texas-resident-sentenced-south-florida-more-6-years-prison-violations-cuban-embargo


OFAC Reaches $5 Million Settlement with JPMorgan Chase Bank

2018/10/30

By: Danielle Hatch

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced this month that it had reached a $5,263,171 settlement with JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. for 87 violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations.

The transactions were net settlement payments with a very small portion being provided to the interests of airlines that were on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List), blocked pursuant to OFAC sanctions, or located in countries subject to OFAC sanctions. The transactions included airline freight charges which are not exempt from the prohibitions of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

On a separate issue, OFAC issued a Finding of Violation to JPMC for violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations and the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. Between 2011 and 2014 JPMC processed 85 transactions worth $46,127.04 held accounts on behalf of six customers who were on the SDN list.

In both situations JPMC voluntarily disclosed the violations and they were considered to be non-egregious violations by OFAC.

Settlement Agreement: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20181005.aspx


Chinese Intelligence Officer Charged with Espionage and Stealing Trade Secrets

2018/10/30

By: Danielle Hatch

Yanjun Xu (aka Qu Hui and aka Zhang Hui), a Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) operative, has been arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and stealing trade secrets from several US aviation and aerospace companies. The MSS is the intelligence and security agency for China and is responsible for counter-intelligence, foreign intelligence and political security. It has the power to conduct espionage both in China and abroad.

The indictment explains that from 2013 to 2018, Xu targeted certain aviation companies (in and outside of the US) and proceeded to contact specific experts who worked within those companies. Xu was able to get some of them to travel to China, under the pretense that they would be delivering a university presentation. These employees travel was paid for in addition to stipends by Xu. GE Aviation was one of the companies listed in the indictment that Xu encountered.

Xu was extradited to the US this month, Assistant Director Bill Priestap of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division explained, “This unprecedented extradition of a Chinese intelligence officer exposed the Chinese government’s direct oversight of economic espionage against the United States.”

Justice: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/chinese-intelligence-officer-charged-economic-espionage-involving-theft-trade-secrets-leading


Epsilon vs. OFAC: Third Party Risks & “Reason to Know”

2018/10/30

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:

  1. The alleged violations constituted or resulted in a systematic pattern of conduct
  2. Epsilon exported goods valued at $2,823,000 or more
  3. Epsilon had no compliance program at the time of the alleged violations

OFAC considered the following to be mitigating factors:

  1. 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
  2. Epsilon is a small business
  3. 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).

Enforcement Details: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/CivPen/Documents/20180913_epsilon.pdf


Chinese National Sentenced to 46 Months in Prison for Illegal Exports

2018/10/29

By: Danielle Hatch

Si Chen, 33, known as “Cathy Chen” plead guilty to illegally exporting sensitive space communications technology to China was sentenced this month to 46 months in prison. Chen was arrested in May 2017 after an investigation by the Office of Export Enforcement uncovered her elaborate scheme involving illegal exports, money laundering, and forged passports.

Court documents show that from March 2013 to the end of 2015, Chen purchased and smuggled “jammers” which are used in military communications as well as devices used in space communication applications. The devices were worth more than $100,000 and required a license from the Department of Commerce for regional stability and national security reasons. Chen forged her passport, she used a Chinese passport with her photo on it and the name, “Chunping Ji” which she used to rent an office in Pomona, California where she would receive the export-controlled items. After she had the items, she would then ship them to Hong Kong using the false name on the passport, false product descriptions, and she undervalued the items on the shipping documents to avoid red flags or suspicions. Once the items reached Hong Kong they were then transshipped to China. Chen received the money for the items via an account at a bank in China in one of her family member’s names once the items reached China.

United States Attorney Nick Hana explained during the sentencing, “This defendant knowingly participated in a plot to secretly send items with military applications to China. The smuggled items would be used in a number of damaging ways, including in equipment that could jam our satellite communications. We will aggressively target all persons who provide foreign agents with technology in violation of US law.”

Justice: https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/pomona-woman-sentenced-federal-prison-scheme-smuggle-restricted-space-communications


Owner of Defense Firm Charged with Defrauding DOD out of 7 Million in Contracts

2018/09/27

By: Danielle Hatch

Ferdi Murat Gul (Fred Gul), 42, of Turkey has been indicted by a grand jury on the following counts:

  • One count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud
  • Six counts of wire fraud
  • One count of conspiracy to violate the Arms Export Control Act (AECA)
  • Once substantive count of violating the Arms Export Control Act

Gul is the principal owner, chief executive office, and general manager of Bright Machinery Manufacturing Group Inc. (BMM), a defense contracting company in New Jersey and FMG Machinery Group (FMG), a purported manufacturing company in New York. He also has an ownership interest in HFMG Insaat (HFMG), a manufacturing company located in Turkey.

Between October 2010 and June 2015 Gul would submit bids for DoD contracts for BMM, he would submit quotes based on BMM providing military goods manufactured in the US. BMM actually relied on Gul’s Turkish company, HFMG for the goods. Over the course of 5 years BMM was awarded approximately $7 million in DoD contracts. BMM fraudulently won 346 contracts to manufacture torpedoes for the US Navy, bomb ejector racks, and armament utilized in US Air Force aircraft, and firearms and mine clearance systems used by US military abroad. Later testing by the DoD exposed the some parts had several design flaws and were unusable.

Gul and his conspirators hid the fraudulent activity from the government by submitting forged certifications and fabricated information by email to DoD. They also falsely claimed that they performed quality control on the procedures and parts sold to DoD. To have HFMG create the parts for BMM, Gul exported drawings and technical data to Turkey. Some of this information was subject to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and required a license form the State Department.

The wire fraud counts carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The Arms Export Control Act violations carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Ferdi Murat Gul is currently at large and believed to be in Turkey. Also remember…The charges and allegations of this indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty (cue sound from Law & Order).

Department of Justice: https://www.justice.gov/usao-nj/pr/owner-defense-firm-charged-conspiracy-defraud-department-defense-7-million-violate-arms