Two companies in Singapore, CSE Global and CSE Transtel, agreed to pay the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) $12,027,066 to settle charges that they violated the Iran Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”). The charges arose from CSE Transtel supplying telecommunications goods and services to energy projects in Iran. OFAC did not allege that these goods and services originated in the United States. Rather, OFAC alleged that because the vendors were paid in U.S. Dollars that CSE had caused the export of financial services from U.S. Banks to Iran in violation of section 560.204 of the ITSR.

Now we’ve been through this U.S. dollar business with OFAC before. In the typical case, OFAC’s claim of jurisdiction over the foreign company is based on the fact that the foreign company’s bank and the foreign company’s customer’s bank would have used correspondent accounts denominated in dollars and held in U.S banks to effectuate the transaction. Of course, whether the transfer of dollars between U.S. banks in connection with a foreign company’s sale of goods to Iran is the export of a financial service to Iran is not entirely clear. But at least in this scenario you can see a direct flow of dollars related to a specific Iranian transaction.

But the Singapore situation is different because Singapore is authorized to engage in offshore dollar clearing transactions. And, as the OFAC release admits, the transactions in question were effectuated through U.S. Dollar accounts held in Singapore banks. The way that U.S. Dollar transactions are cleared in Singapore is described here. Suffice it to say, there are cases where U.S. Dollar transactions can be cleared in Singapore under this system without a U.S. bank ever being involved. If, for example, CSE and its vendor had U.S Dollar accounts at the same bank, or were the only dollar transactions between two Singapore banks on a clearing day, the Singapore clearing house would clear the transactions without the need for either bank to make up a dollar deficit as part of the clearing process.

But in the other possible (and more likely) situations where the dollars clear in Singapore but dollar transfers are needed to make up differences between banks, it still can’t be said that the dollar transfers to settle the dollar position of the Singapore bank is the export of a financial service to Iran. Say a bank in Singapore pays $10,000 for a customer’s Iran transaction but during the day pays out $200,000 and receives $100,000 where none of these other dollar transactions have anything to do with Iran. It will need to transfer $100,000 to the Singapore clearing house, which will be effectuated through a U.S. Dollar correspondent account in the United States. In that case the bank in the United States has not transferred any financial service to Iran because the payment relates to an aggregate of transactions valued at $300,000, almost all of which have nothing to do with Iran.

The only scenario in the Singapore clearing situation where the U.S. bank would transfer a financial service to Iran would be where the Iran payment by the Singapore bank is the onlyU.S. dollar transaction by the Singapore bank during the clearing day. In that case, the transaction looks like a traditional one where the dollar payment is cleared through the U.S. bank. But there is no reason to believe that any or all of the CSE Iran transaction were the only dollar transactions during that clearing day. But that doesn’t stop OFAC from inaccurately claiming that every dollar transaction conducted by CSE through its Singapore accounts caused a transfer of financial services from the United States to Iran.

Copyright © 2017 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.  (No republication, syndication or use permitted without my consent.)