The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported last week that lobbying records made public this month show the CEO and a lobbyist for Kinross Gold Corp., a Canadian gold mining company and one of the world’s largest, “have had numerous communications” with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign affairs policy adviser, Canada’s deputy minister of foreign affairs and the Canadian ambassador to Russia in order to discuss “policies and regulations related to the imposition of economic sanctions.”

With almost a third of Kinross’s global gold production reportedly coming from its two mines in Russia, Kinross has good reason to to try to find out, to the best extent possible, whether the Canadian government plans to impose sanctions relating to Russia that may affect Kinross business in that country.

Canadian sanctions against Russia, like U.S. and EU laws, involve prohibitions on dealings with targeted persons and give government authorities wide latitude to designate individuals and entities with essentially no public notice or consultation.  Under U.S. law, for example, OFAC can designate an SDN at any time without having to comply with public notice and review requirements imposed on almost all government agencies so long as the person meets the often broad criteria of a sanctions target under an executive order.

Moreover, OFAC deems any entity owned 50% or more by an SDN to be treated as an SDN itself.  As we previously reported, the so-called 50% rule has caused a variety of compliance conundrums relating to Russia as a few individuals, like Gennady Timchenko, Arkady Rotenberg and Boris Rotenberg, own major companies in many sectors of the Russian economy.  To boot, Kinross may have gotten understandably skittish when, south of the border, President Obamaissued his latest Russian sanctions-related executive order in late March permitting imposition of sanctions on those operating in various sectors of the Russian economy, including metals and mining.  Under that criteria, Kinross itself might later be designated an SDN.

Sanctioning governments have, of course, reasons for their secrecy.  Intended targets can’t be announced prior to sanctions being imposed and, therefore, given a head start in transferring their property and money to safe haven countries.  But with little guidance and a lot at stake, Kinross has every reason to reach out to government officials to gain any clarity possible and do one’s best to make sure business can continue as usual or, if not, how to adjust its operations to comply with applicable laws.

Kinross is not alone.  U.S. federal lobbying records for this year’s first quarter are now publicly available.  For example, Coca-ColaXerox and Citgo are among the variety of companies that have reported lobbying efforts relating to sanctions against Russia.  Because sanctions against Russia weren’t imposed until the end of the first quarter in March, we expect to see disclosures in subsequent quarters from more companies involved in such efforts.

If there are smoke-filled rooms in economic sanctions, the smoke is mostly from government cigars (and maybe Cuban-origin for the Canadians).  The smoke arises where statutes, regulations and executive orders give government agencies dangerously broad discretion in identifying the sanctions targets and enforcing sanctions laws in ways that are not readily apparent from the laws themselves.

Future economic sanctions laws are not likely to be written any clearer.  Much of their effectiveness lies in not knowing who will be targeted and, as a result, the better chance there is that companies and individuals will police themselves in order to avoid possible violation.  In such an uncertain environment, finding people who can get as much information as possible from government officials enforcing sanctions will always be an invaluable resource.