On July 20, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced a $2 million civil money penalty assessed against an international oil and gas company, including two of its U.S. subsidiaries, for alleged violations of OFAC’s Ukraine-Related sanctions regulations. OFAC claims that, in May 2014, the company impermissibly dealt in services of a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation who had been placed on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDNs) by signing eight legal documents related to oil and gas projects in Russia with the individual. Although the company claimed that it believed such actions were permissible, OFAC noted that the “plain language of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions” clearly indicates otherwise. In particular, OFAC stated that the sanctions blocked “any property and interests in property, and prohibited any dealing in any property and interests in property, of a person so designated.” In addition, the sanctions expressly forbid U.S. persons from “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person,” and, according to OFAC, do not differentiate between an individual’s “personal” and “professional” capacity—a distinction the company tried to make.
Thus, concluded OFAC, information available at the time of the alleged violations “clearly put [the company] on notice that OFAC would consider executing documents with an SDN to violate the prohibitions in the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.” The $2 million penalty was the largest that OFAC could impose under statute. OFAC imposed the penalty based on the following factors: (i) the company did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations; (ii) the company demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by disregarding clear warning signs; (iii) the company’s senior-most executives knew of the official’s status as an SDN when it executed the legal documents; (iv) the company caused significant harm to the sanctions program by dealing with a senior official of the Russian Federation; and (v) the company is a sophisticated and experienced oil company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services and technology subject to U.S. economic sanctions and export controls.