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Companies outside the U.S. contemplating purchases of U.S. business (and potential U.S. acquisition targets) are continuing to parse the Department of the Treasury’s two proposed regulations continuing implementation of the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (“FIRRMA”).  The proposed rules change the Committee’s jurisdiction and certain procedures related to the national security reviews undertaken by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”).  These proposed regulations provide additional clarity regarding how CFIUS intends to implement the FIRRMA amendments.  When implemented, these regulations will formally expand CFIUS jurisdiction – but will also formalize current CFIUS practice in most respects.  Implementation is scheduled to occur on or before February 13, 2020.[1]

Jurisdiction over non-controlling investments

Traditionally, CFIUS exercised jurisdiction over investments that result in the “control” of a non-U.S. person over a U.S. business.  After FIRRMA implementation, CFIUS will have jurisdiction over certain investments that do not result in control by a non-U.S. person.  Specifically, CFIUS will have jurisdiction over non-controlling investments if the investment is in a specific company type, and if it affords the investor specific, enumerated rights.

The draft regulations identify several company types that satisfy the first part of the test.  The first type is a business that produces or otherwise deals in certain “critical technologies.”  A separate statute[2] authorizes the Department of Commerce to identify these critical technologies.  Although the Department of Commerce did identify examples of these technologies in a 2018 rulemaking, that process is not yet complete.
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Yesterday, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) listed Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (“PdVSA”) as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”) pursuant to its authority under Executive Order 13850. As a result of the designation, all property and interests in PdVSA property subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the entity and its 50-percent owned subsidiaries.

Concurrent with the designation, OFAC amended one existing and issued eight new General Licenses (“GLs”).  These GLs authorize activities that would otherwise be prohibited by Executive Order 13850 or other Venezuela-related sanctions, and fall into one of several categories: 1) authorizations regarding maintenance and wind down activities related to contracts with PdVSA or certain of its subsidiaries existing prior to January 28, 2019 (GL 11, GL12).  The most significant authorization allows parties to wind down pre-existing contracts with PdVSA until February 27, 2019; 2) authorizations regarding certain PdVSA subsidiaries, including PDV Holding, Inc. (“PDVH”), CITGO Holding, Inc. (“CITGO”), and Nynas AB (GL 7, GL 13). These GLs include an authorization for the export of certain U.S. items and services until July 27, 2019; 3) the purchase in Venezuela of gas from PdVSA and its subsidiaries for certain uses (GL 10); 4) authorization for certain Venezuela-based operations involving PdVSA (GL 8); and 5) transactions related to certain bonds and debts (GL 3A, GL 9), among others.

The GLs generally have difference scopes, apply to different entities, and have different validity periods. The key aspects of each of the GLs are described below.


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It has always been a possibility that the United Kingdom would crash out of the European Union on 30 March 2019 but “no deal” preparation is now highly recommended by both sides.  For organisations that export dual use items, the possibility of the UK becoming a “third country” vis-à-vis the EU without an exit agreement or transition period means an overnight need for export licenses where none are required today.

Seasoned international businesses understand that dual use items, which can be used for both civil and military purposes, include far more products than one might assume.  In addition to the more obvious goods that may be used to produce or develop military items, such as machine tools and equipment used for chemical manufacturing, computers, drawings, technology, software, raw materials, and components also may be subject to dual use controls.   Even seemingly mundane items such as protective clothing used in medical laboratories, certain commonly used chemicals, certain ball bearings, and a wide variety of other products are controlled for export and they need to be properly classified to determine if a license would be needed to ship to a UK that has left the EU.  Many entities that have been operating exclusively within the EU could soon be confronted with dual use licensing requirements for the first time and global businesses may be faced with a potentially significant increase in the number of items that need be licensed.
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Earlier this week, the Bureau of Industry and Security (“BIS”) published a request for public comment regarding a proposed expansion of export controls under the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”) for certain spraying or fogging systems, which are controlled under Export Control Classification Number (“ECCN”) 2B352.i.  Currently, the ECCN controls only spraying or fogging equipment that is specially designed or modified for use on certain aircraft that also meet certain technical specifications related to droplet size and flow rate.[1]

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After months of negotiation, Congress recently passed, and the president is expected to sign, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 (“FIRRMA”).[1]  FIRRMA updates the national security review of inbound investments undertaken by the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (“CFIUS” or “the Committee”), an interagency body located within the

Today, the EC announced that it is moving forward with a package of measures to blunt the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran following the U.S. exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Included in those measures is the planned activation of the EU blocking statute, which would bar EU companies from complying with the extraterritorial effects of U.S. sanctions requirements on Iran.  The statute is also intended to insulate EU companies from certain U.S. sanctions penalties.  Implementation of blocking statutes can create a situation in which companies must decide which country’s law they are going to violate – if they cannot find an approach that avoids the conflict.      
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On Tuesday President Trump announced that the United States will exit the multilateral Iran nuclear deal and fully re-impose sanctions on Iran. After the announcement, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the agency responsible for administering most U.S. sanctions, issued a statement and guidance on the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions. This announcement reflects a major change in U.S. policy towards Iran and will have far-reaching implications for companies that re-entered the Iranian market following the 2016 nuclear deal.

U.S. and non-U.S. companies should formulate carefully considered wind down and exit strategies to ensure compliance with applicable U.S. rules and to avoid secondary sanctions risks.

Background

In January 2016, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the United States, Iran, and other countries was formally implemented, lifting many sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program. Under the JCPOA, the United States waived most secondary sanctions on Iran, including those targeting non-U.S. companies for doing business that involved Iran’s energy, finance, and other sectors. OFAC also removed a large number of Iranian parties associated with the Government of Iran from the List of Specially Designated Nationals (SDN List), allowing non-U.S. companies to conduct transactions with those parties without being subject to secondary sanctions. Foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies were also authorized under OFAC’s General License H to conduct most commercial business involving Iran. These changes allowed non-U.S. companies and foreign subsidiaries of U.S. companies to re-enter the Iranian market in compliance with U.S. law and without the threat of U.S. secondary sanctions penalties.
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Does your company source components or parts outside the U.S.?  When doing so, you need to be careful about sending unlicensed export controlled technical data like drawings, blueprints and manufacturing instructions as part of an RFQ or production process.  Many companies send such information to overseas parts vendors and to non-U.S. person employees at domestic vendors without a systematic check to see if the information requires an export license.  And an increasing number of companies already have — or are establishing — offshore engineering centers of their own, or they have a relationship with an offshore third party engineering center, without focusing on the need to implement a rigorous process to ensure that data exchanged with those centers is licensed for export when needed.  Similar challenges arise when engineers and procurement personnel at U.S.-based business units collaborate with a sister facility abroad, or they use web-based collaborative platforms (e.g. Sharepoint) for product development without thinking through export control concerns. 
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Global communications solutions provider, CSE TransTel, a subsidiary of CSE Global Limited (both based in Singapore), recently agreed to settle Iran sanctions charges leveled by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for $12 million.  The charges involve 104 violations of the Iran sanctions between June 2012 and March 2013.  The case involved an independent U.S. government investigation, not a voluntary self-disclosure.

The charges related to TransTel causing six different financial institutions to provide unauthorized financial services relating to transactions with Iran.  The funds transfers were processed in part in the U.S. and they involved the supply of goods or services handled by a variety of vendors and service providers with connections to Iran. 
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A California jury in federal court ruled on Tuesday, June 20, that TransUnion violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by erroneously linking certain consumers with similarly named terrorists and criminals in the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC’s) database.  The jury awarded statutory and punitive damages in excess of $60 million, which could set a record for the largest FCRA verdict to date.

Initially filed in 2012, plaintiffs alleged that TransUnion willfully violated FCRA by failing to maintain reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the consumer reports it sold, and by failing to provide required disclosures to consumers.  TransUnion offers an add-on service to its standard consumer reports whereby it would check consumers against OFAC’s “Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List” (SDN), which lists terrorists, drug traffickers, and other criminals.  Companies that do business with individuals on the SDN face strict liability penalties approaching $290,000 per transaction, so companies have a strong incentive to cross-reference the SDN before undertaking certain transactions – depending on the type of transaction and other factors.
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