OFAC: Know it and love it

OFAC: Know it and love it

With businesses increasingly including sanctions compliance language based on regulations from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in contracts and agreements, employers should take a minute to familiarize themselves with the issue and the potential for costly liability.

OFAC administers and enforces sanctions against countries or individuals (like terrorists or narcotics traffickers) with actions ranging from trade restrictions to the blocking of assets. For U.S. companies, the agency’s enforcement applies to banks, insurers, and others in the financial industry that may be engaged in covered dealings. OFAC takes action against U.S. entities that engage in transactions prohibited by Congress such as trade with an embargoed country or a transaction with a specially designated national (SDN).

Violation of the regulations, which apply to all U.S. citizens, can result in substantial fines and penalties. Criminal penalties can reach up to $20 million and imprisonment up to 30 years; civil fees can range from up to $65,000 to $1,075,000 per violation, depending on the activity at issue.

In an effort to avoid running afoul of such terrifying numbers, companies will include OFAC sanctions compliance language within corporate acquisition agreements, insurance policies, and credit agreements. Businesses are increasingly adding such language in light of stepped up enforcement efforts by OFAC that have resulted in sizable settlement agreements with U.S. entities.

For example, some contracts may include language requiring a party to state that it is not the target of any OFAC sanctions status, that no OFAC investigations are in process, or that it does not engage in transactions with countries like Iran or North Korea. Other deals may feature a provision affirming that a company is not owned by an individual on the list of SDNs, that the company is not based or located in an embargoed country, or assuring that the monies used to make an investment or purchase were not provided by a sanctioned country or individual.

However, it is important to note that the use of compliance language does not insulate a company from OFAC liability. While such a provision may create a contract-based remedy to recover monetary damages based on a fine or settlement with the agency, the clause cannot eliminate liability. Like any other governmental regulator, OFAC is not bound by private contract and can take action even with such terms in place.

To learn more about OFAC, click here. Link: http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/faqs/Sanctions/Pages/answer.aspx

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