After weeks of negotiations and a Putin-backed delay, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2270 on March 2, 2016, imposing new sanctions against North Korea. According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the resolution imposes the strongest set of UN sanctions in over two decades. This article provides a summary of the new UN North Korea sanctions followed by an overview of the most recent developments in North Korea sanctions under US law.

New UN North Korea Sanctions

The new sanctions require:

  • An asset freeze on all funds and other economic resources owned or controlled by the North Korean government or the Worker’s Party of Korea, if associated with its nuclear or ballistic missile program or other prohibited activities
  • A ban on the opening and operation of North Korean banks abroad
  • A ban on foreign financial institutions opening new offices in North Korea under all circumstances, unless first approved by the Sanctions Committee, and a requirement for UN Member States to order the closing of existing branches if there is credible information indicating the associated financial services are contributing to North Korea’s illicit activities
  • Designation of 16 new individuals and 12 entities (including North Korea’s Ministry of Atomic Energy and the Reconnaissance Energy Bureau)
  • A ban all public and private financial trade support to North Korea if there are reasonable grounds to believe there is a link to proliferation
  • Sectoral sanctions on North Korean trade in natural resources banning the export of all gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth metals and banning the supply of all types of aviation fuel, including rocket fuel
  • A ban on the export of coal, iron, and iron ore used for North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs
  • Inspection of all cargo going to and from North Korea, not just those suspected of containing prohibited items
  • Expanding the arms embargo to include small arms and light weapons
  • A ban leasing or chartering vessels or airplanes, providing crew services to North Korea, and registering vessels
  • Expanding the list of luxury goods (prohibited for export to North Korea) to include luxury watches, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000, lead crystal items and recreational sports equipment
  • A sweeping ban on the transfer of any item if a UN Member State has reason to believe the item can contribute to the development and capabilities of the North Korean armed forces, except for food and medicine

China, a permanent member of the Security Council, joined the unanimous vote despite prior reluctance to strengthen UN sanctions against North Korea. It remains yet to be seen how China will enforce the sanctions.

U.S. North Korea Sanctions

Separately, the United States took action earlier against North Korea. We speculate that this action helped align the UNSC members toward the unanimous vote on UNSCR 2270. On February 18, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016. The bill had easily passed through both Houses of Congress on the heels of the most recent nuclear test and rocket launch by North Korea.

Then on March 2, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named two entities and 10 individuals to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. On the same day, the State Department designated three entities and two individuals for activities related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Over the next few months, OFAC is expected to issue new North Korea regulations to implement other provisions of the new statute.

The Act

The new statute provides for both mandatory and discretionary designations. These sanctions are directed at activities by U.S. Persons, which includes any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, any entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (foreign branches of U.S. companies, that means you too), and any person in the United States.

In addition, any transaction by any non-U.S. persons supporting any of the designated entities or prohibited activities must be carefully scrutinized, especially if the transactions involve the U.S. financial system in any way.

Mandatory Designations

The Act requires the designation and freezing of all assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction of any person that engages in any of the following activities relating to North Korea:

  • Nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation
  • Dealings in North Korean metals and products tied to WMD activities, the Korean Workers’ Party, armed forces, intelligence, or the operation of political prison camps
  • “Significant financial transactions” related to weapons of mass destruction
  • Undermining cybersecurity
  • Internal repression
  • Forced labor
  • Censorship
  • Human rights violations

In addition, the Act requires the President to decide on the designation of North Korea as a Primary Money Laundering Concern in the coming months.

As a result, companies must ensure that no company activity supports the activities of entities designated under the above act provisions. Compliance programs, including those related to anti-money laundering, should be reevaluated as the sanctions are not simple reiterations of previous measures. These mandatory designations will make it all the more necessary that companies maintain reasonable and proportionate due diligence and screening procedures to prevent facilitating the enumerated activities.

Discretionary Designations

Before we reach the current regulation regime, we will leave you with the remaining provisions of the Act that have not yet been implemented. While no one holds the OFAC crystal ball, these provisions may rear their head and are worth considering in advance of promulgation.

  1. Blocking sanctions

The Act explicitly codified the blocking of assets of the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea, and North Korean Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). While this sanction is essentially already in effect under the various executive orders, the explicit restrictions would prohibit the use of the U.S. financial system in connection with any transaction with the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea, or SDNs of North Korea.

  1. UN Security Council resolutions

The Act also authorizes designation as an SDN of any person who supports a person designated pursuant to an applicable UN Security Council resolution. The potential implications of this Act provision deserve attention as the recent resolution imposed the toughest set of sanctions yet.

  1. Bribery

If you thought the FCPA was the sole concern out of U.S. soil relating to bribery of foreign officials, think again. The Act also authorizes designation of any person who knowingly contributes to bribery of a North Korean official, or to misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by, or for the benefit of, a North Korean official.

  1. Sanctions grab bag

The Act also authorizes the President to prohibit any person already designated under the above three categories from transactions in foreign exchange or credit or payments subject to U.S. jurisdiction, procurement, and/or travel by the designated person’s officers and shareholders.

Refresher: Pre-Existing OFAC Regulations

The new Act builds upon the pre-existing U.S. sanctions against North Korea. For further background, see Trading Up: Newly Implemented North Korea and Libya Sanctions.

Blocking sanctions

The regulations provide for the continued the blocking of property and interests in property of certain persons with respect to North Korea that had been blocked pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) as of June 2000.Further, the regulations block property and interests in property of persons listed in the Annex to E.O. 13551 and of individuals and entities determined by Treasury in consultation with the State Department to have engaged in activities related to:

  • The import, export, or reexport of arms or related materiel from North Korea
  • The import, export, or reexport of luxury goods to North Korea
  • Money laundering, counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity supporting the Government of North Korea or its senior officials
  • Providing support for or goods or services of any of the above-listed activities or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13551
  • Owning, controlling, or acting on behalf of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13551

Vessels

The regulations prohibit U.S. persons from registering, owning, leasing, operating, insuring or otherwise providing support to North Korean vessels.

Imports to North Korea

Lastly in terms of prohibitions, the regulations prohibit imports of goods, services, and technology (including those used as components of finished products of, or substantially transformed in, a third country) from North Korea without an OFAC licenses or applicable exemption.

Authorizations

The preexisting regulations also provided authorization for the provision of certain legal services, emergency medical services, and entries in certain accounts for normal service charges by U.S. financial institutions.

The Takeaway

Interactions with North Korea are an increasingly dangerous minefield of sanctions. The new North Korea sanctions add to an already restrictive program. As a result, we recommend additional review and specialized controls as the new sanctions reach new heights (or depths, depending your level of preparation).