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On June 7th, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced that the U.S. government reached an agreement with ZTE Corporation (ZTE) to lift a denial order suspending the export privileges of ZTE for a period of seven years.  Under this new agreement, ZTE must pay $1 billion and place an additional $400 million in escrow in a U.S.-approved bank within 90 days of this superseding order.  The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will lift the denial order after the payment has been received and notify the public that ZTE has been removed from the Denied Persons List.

In addition to the civil monetary penalty, ZTE must adhere to several other conditions under the new agreement, which collectively are the most severe penalty BIS has ever imposed on a company.  Most notably:
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Yesterday, the President issued a new Executive Order (E.O.) prohibiting certain financial transactions involving the Venezuelan government, including Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), the state-owned oil company.  Under the new rules, persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are prohibited from engaging in transactions related to:

(i) the purchase of any debt owed to the Government

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 April 15, 2018, the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued an Order relating to Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation and ZTE Kangxun Telecommunications Ltd. (collectively, ZTE) that suspends the export privileges of ZTE for a period of seven years, until March 13, 2025.  Pursuant to the Order, ZTE may not, directly or indirectly, participate

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)’s new North Korea Sanctions Regulations become effective today.  In addition to making certain technical and conforming changes, the newly updated Part 510 incorporates recent changes to the sanctions program under Executive Orders (E.O.) 13687, 13722, and 13810, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, and the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA).  The new rules incorporate general licenses that were previously exclusively on OFAC’s website and make changes to those general licenses, including a new $5,000 cap on authorized remittances to North Korea and the elimination of the general license authorizing certain educational activities.  OFAC also issued four new general licenses authorizing certain transactions relating to the investment and reinvestment of funds, payments of certain legal fees, and the activities of the U.S. government and international organizations.

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Last week the President begrudgingly extended waivers continuing to lift U.S. “secondary sanctions” on Iran.  But the President also insisted that he will not issue further extensions without a renegotiation of certain aspects of the joint nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA), throwing the future of the deal and U.S. Iran policy further into doubt.

Before the JCPOA, the United States maintained a variety of so-called “secondary” sanctions on Iran, allowing the United States to penalize non-U.S. financial institutions and non-U.S. companies that engaged in certain transactions related to Iran, including those linked to the Iranian energy and petrochemical industry, the banking and finance sector, shipping, the automotive sector, and precious metals, among others.  The secondary sanctions were purely extraterritorial in nature – they sought to dissuade non-U.S. companies
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A bipartisan group of co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate recently introduced the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act (“FIRRMA”).  These substantively identical bills demonstrate that Congress is now considering increasing the scrutiny of foreign investment in the U.S., particularly from China.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) is the interagency body is responsible for reviewing incoming foreign investments for national security risks, so long as they are “covered transactions.”  FIRRMA would broaden the scope of “covered transactions” to include, among other things: the purchase or lease by a foreign person of real estate located near U.S. military or national security interests; non-passive investments in critical technologies or critical infrastructure; and the contribution of U.S. critical technology to a foreign person, including through joint ventures, among others.  The bills would also update certain terms and definitions, including “critical technology,” which can include emerging technologies that are not necessarily controlled for export.  Notably, FIRRMA would not extend CFIUS jurisdiction to “greenfield” investments, which the regulations carve out from CFIUS review. 
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A recent settlement agreement between the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) and BD White Birch Investment LLC, a U.S.-based paper company, is an important reminder that U.S. companies cannot assist their foreign subsidiaries or affiliates with sales related to sanctioned countries. 
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