Last week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (“IRGC”) was sanctioned yet again by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”). I say “yet again” because prior to the latest action the IRGC had already been designated and blocked under Executive Orders 13382, 13553, and 13606. At this point, OFAC has now put the IRGC on the SDN List more more times than the Washington Nationals have been in the National League Division Series (three times) and way more times than they’ve won the NLDS (that would be never).
Which leads to the legitimate question as to what’s going on here? Are OFAC and the White House just trying to stir things up? Or is there some kind of monthly designation quota at OFAC, like the police department daily ticket quotas in Arlington, Fairfax and Falls Church which make driving in Virginia so risky?
Knowing that this issue would arise, OFAC released along with the designation an FAQ to explain why this designation is unlike the other ones.
Today’s action designating the IRGC under E.O. 13224, our counterterrorism authority, carries some additional consequences that will limit certain activities with respect to the IRGC. Persons designated under E.O. 13224, which now includes the IRGC, may not avail themselves of the so called “Berman exemptions” under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) relating to personal communication, humanitarian donations, information or informational materials, and travel.
That’s right. It is now a federal crime for a U.S. person to give a copy of The Bible to anyone in the IRGC.
Aside from the sheer stupidity of this result, it is not quite clear to me that it is actually the case that this new designation sidesteps the Berman Amendment. That amendment, codified in 50 U.S.C. § 1702(b)(3), restricts the actions that the President can take with respect to using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) to limit, among other things, the import and export of informational materials.
The new designation is the result of section 105 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (“CATSACT”) which specifically directs the President to sanction IRGC under Executive Order 13224. Now perhaps OFAC thinks that it can escape the Berman Amendment because these sanctions are under CATSACT and not under IEEPA. The problem is section 105 explicitly cites IEEPA in imposing the obligation to sanction the IRGC under Executive Order 13224. Moreover, the other three executive orders under which IRGC was previously sanctioned cite other statutory authority in addition to IEEPA, so it’s not quite clear why OFAC now says that throwing some statute other than IEEPA into the mix makes the Berman Amendment provisions on informational materials inapplicable. Finally, the result of a designation under Executive Order 13224 is to make the IRGC subject to the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations. Those regulations, in section 594.305, have a definition of “informational materials,” a definition that would be completely unnecessary if OFAC thought that the Berman Amendment’s provisions on “informational materials” did not apply.
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