Right before the New Year, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) started some of the inevitable clean-up on the Executive Order sanctioning Crimea that the agency rushed out before the President went on vacation. Not having time to calibrate the sanctions, the order just prohibited all imports and exports (except for the statutorily required exceptions for agricultural products, medicine and medical devices, which, somehow or other, became “medical supplies”). The first of these was General License No. 5 which permits U.S. persons to wind-down operations in Crimea.
But, sadly, the General License is a mess. For starters, although the license permits transactions and activities “normally incident” to “the winding down of operations, contracts, or other agreements that were in effect prior to December 20, 2014,” the General License gives no indication of what types of transactions might be “normally incident” to winding down. The General License does say what is not incident to winding down. New exports of goods and services to Crimea don’t qualify. And, in a masterpiece of useless circular definition, neither are new imports of goods and services from Crimea “except as needed to wind down operations, contracts, or other agreements.” Thanks, that clears everything up.
Let’s take a concrete example. Let’s say that money is owed under a contract for services performed prior to December 20, 2014, in Crimea. Can that money be paid? Who knows. But if you decide that it is, you have to make the payment by February 1, 2015, and file a report within 10 days with OFAC about everything you did to wind down operations. That way OFAC can decide (after the fact, of course) whether what you did was normally incident to winding down and send you a charging letter (too late for a voluntary disclosure) if it decides that it was not.
The February 1, 2015 deadline is pretty unrealistic for certain wind downs that involve divestiture of assets in Crimea. Any potential purchaser who knows about the deadline (and they all will know about it) will, of course, wait until January 31 and offer the U.S. seller fire-sale prices. So who’s being sanctioned here?