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Fatema Merchant is a partner in the Government Contracts, Investigations and International Trade and White Collar Defense and Corporate Investigations Practice Groups in the firm's Washington, D.C. office.

On Sunday, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced novel and sweeping sanctions on specific categories of services in order to cripple Russia’s wartime capabilities and sanctioned key individuals at Russian banks and state-owned television stations. Concurrently, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) made available for public inspection a final rule expanding export restrictions by imposing a license requirement for exports, reexports, or transfers (in-country) to and within Russia on additional items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

Continue Reading Novel Sanctions Against Business-Related Services Connected to Russia and Additional Export Restrictions

Last week, the United States government imposed additional restrictions on the imports from, and exports to, Russia. The import changes stem from the Suspending Normal Trade Relations with Russia and Belarus Act, signed into law by President Biden, that increase the duties for products that claim Russia or Belarus as their country of origin. In terms of exports, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued a press release last Saturday announcing further controls on the export and reexport of U.S.-origin and certain foreign-produced commodities, software, and technologies to Russia and Belarus by amending the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). The expanded rule is currently under public inspection in the Federal Register and will be published tomorrow.

Continue Reading Additional Import and Export Restrictions in Response to Russia’s Aggression in Ukraine

Updated as of April 12, 2022

It has now been more than 40 days since the start of Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Today, following the recent revelations of the atrocities committed in Bucha, Ukraine by Russian armed forces, the United States – in coordination with the G7 and the EU – imposed new sanctions on Russia (see here). The sweeping new sanctions seek to further restrict Russia’s access to dollars and put economic pressure on Putin to end the war. The sanctions include a ban on all new investment in Russia as well as designations of Russia’s largest financial institutions (i.e., Sberbank and Alfa Bank), critical state-owned enterprises, and Russian government officials and their family members, including Putin’s children.

Continue Reading U.S. and Allies Impose Additional Severe Costs on Russia for Atrocities in Ukraine

The recent comprehensive economic sanctions by the U.S. and other nations against Russia has propelled the crypto community onto the geo-political stage in a major way. As with other forms of payment and methods of money transmission, cryptocurrency and cryptocurrency exchanges are at risk for exploitation by criminal actors, including those attempting to evade economic sanctions. Several attributes of cryptocurrencies that are usually touted in favor of the technology—pseudonymity, decentralization, digitalization—are now giving government officials, regulators, and lawmakers cause for concern in the sanctions climate. In response, leaders in the crypto community are voicing support of sanctions compliance, and citing aspects of the technology—traceability, immutability, visibility—in reassurance of it. As discussed below, there are several steps that crypto platforms can take to further efforts in blocking and detecting sanctions evasion activity on their platforms.

Continue Reading Crypto and Russia Sanctions: A Primer and Survival Guide For Crypto Companies

Updated as of March 9, 2022

Key Takeaways of OFAC (Treasury), BIS (Commerce), and State Actions

  • Major Russian Banks Blocked from the U.S. Financial System


Continue Reading Russian Risk: Transactions with Russian Banks and Exports to Russia Create Greatest Exposure Under New U.S. Ukraine-Related Sanctions

Updated as of March 3, 2022

Key Takeaways of EU and UK Recent Actions Against Russia and Ukraine Breakaway Regions

  • The EU adopted sanctions restrictions targeting financial institutions, other entities, and individuals, and imposing territorial restrictions on Donetsk and Luhansk. The sanctions also include broad export restrictions to Russia detailed below.
  • In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised and adopted a “massive package of economic sanctions” including asset freeze restrictions; potential exclusion of Russian banks from the UK financial system, including preventing access by such banks to GBP and clearing services in the UK; and dual-use export restrictions to Russia.


Continue Reading Russian Risk: Transactions with Russian Banks and Exports to Russia Create Greatest Exposure Under New EU and UK Ukraine-Related Sanctions

Updated as of February 25, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • On February 21, 2022, the White House issued a new Executive Order (EO) that imposes comprehensive sanctions


Continue Reading U.S., UK and EU Sanctions Over the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) Regions of Ukraine

Today, in a rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (the “Act”) – the text of which was a compromise between Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representative Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) – which had already passed the house on Tuesday of this week. Over the years, including most recently in February 2021 (see our post here), we’ve seen different attempts from both chambers to pass legislation prohibiting the imports of goods from Xinjiang or the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (“XUAR”) – a region in China where, per the U.S. Department of Labor and media reporting, the Chinese government has detained and persecuted more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. President Biden has signaled that he will sign this bill into law.

Continue Reading The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act: Congress Finally Takes Action

How do you tackle the complicated and often seemingly insurmountable problem of human rights abuses around the world? The U.S. Government typically uses a variety of tools: diplomatic efforts, international aid, sanctions, import restrictions on forced labor – the whole carrot-and-stick universe. Enter… Export Controls.

Continue Reading The Intersection of Export Controls and Human Rights: Combating the Misuse of Technologies to Curb Human Rights Abuses

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action last Monday, November 8, 2021, and sanctioned a Latvia-based exchange, Chatex, its associated support network, and two ransomware operators for facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors. In total, OFAC designated Chatex and 57 cryptocurrency addresses (associated with digital wallets) as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). OFAC took this action pursuant to Executive Order 13694, issued in 2015, which provides broad sanctions authority to address the national security threat posed by malicious cyber-actors outside the United States.

Continue Reading OFAC Enforcement Impacts NFTs: As Crypto Enforcement Ramps Up to Combat Ransomware, Robust Compliance is Key

Background

Last Friday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published more targeted guidance for digital asset companies related to compliance with sanctions and best practices for mitigating risks. This guide comes on the heels of OFAC’s first enforcement action against a cryptocurrency exchange, SUEX (which we discussed in our blog here). Given the rise of ransomware threats from malicious cyber-actors that are often linked to sanctioned countries and persons, the lack of very robust regulatory oversight of the virtual currency world, the emerging nature of the technologies, and the growth of the market, it is clear that OFAC hopes crypto companies will pay more attention to sanctions risks and compliance with the issuance of this guidance. While the guide covers a lot of familiar territory, we outline a few key takeaways below.

Continue Reading Sanctions Compliance for Crypto: OFAC Issues Guidance Targeting Virtual Currency Industry