EU Adopts New Sanctions on North Korea

On 16 October, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted new EU autonomous measures reinforcing the sanctions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council, effective immediately. They include a total ban on EU investment in North Korea across all sectors, whereas previously the ban related to certain sectors, such as the arms industry and chemical industries. Also, there is a total ban on the sale of refined petroleum products and crude oil. The amount of personal remittances to North Korea has been lowered from €15,000 to €5,000 in light of suspicions that they are being used in support of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. In addition, three persons and six entities were added to the list of those subject to an asset freeze and travel restrictions.

This post was written by International Trade Practice at Squire Patton Boggs of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP., © Copyright 2017
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Increased Sanctions on North Korea Focus on China and Russia

Last week, President Obama significantly increased sanctions on North Korea through Executive Order 13722, which implements the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 (H.R. 757). The Executive Order’s prohibitions and blocking provisions, and designation criteria are substantially more expansive than that Act. Concurrently with the issuance of the Executive Order, OFAC announced the designations of 17 North Korean government officials and organizations, 15 entities, two individuals, and identified 40 blocked vessels under various sanctions authorities.

While neither Congress nor the President imposed secondary sanctions per se, China and Russia should  interpret the Executive Order as a clear warning about their economic ties with North Korea. In the Iran sanctions program, secondary sanctions require that a foreign financial institution “knowingly facilitate or conduct a significant financial transaction” for a particular individual or entity. This evidentiary standard greatly limited the use of those sanctions authorities. The new sanctions against North Korea are clearly aimed at foreign business interests, but unlike secondary sanctions, this new authority does not have an evidentiary impediment to its implementation.

Transportation, Mining, Energy, and Financial Services

Subsection 2(a)(i) of the Executive Order authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to identify industries in the North Korean economy, the participants of which may be designated solely based on their operating within that industry. The Secretary of the Treasury determined that entities within the transportation, mining, energy, and financial services industries are subject to designation. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) then designated Ilsim International Bank and Korea United Development Bank for operating in the financial services industry.

OFAC’s authority to derivatively designate any bank that provides services to any identified North Korean bank creates de facto secondary sanctions. Executive Order 13722 authorizes OFAC to designate any individual or entity that provides services to any identified Korean bank. Therefore, any financial institution that provides an identified North Korean bank with an account, serves as an intermediary, confirms or advises a letter of credit, or provides any other service can be designated. The most likely targets of these derivative actions are Russian and Chinese financial institutions.

North Korean Slave Labor and Coal

The Executive Order authorizes OFAC to designate businesses that “have engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea.” According to open source reporting, North Korea has between 50,000 and 100,000 “state-sponsored slaves” predominantly located in China and Russia. The North Korean regime earns between $1.2 and $2.3 billion annually in foreign currency through these slave laborers. Apart from the appalling human rights violations, this practice finances the North Korean nuclear and missile development programs.

In addition to companies that utilize North Korean slave labor, entities that deal in metal, graphite, coal, or software to or from North Korea are now subject to designation, “where any revenue or goods received may benefit the Government of North Korea.” United Nations Security Council Resolution 2270 of March 2, 2016 address the sale of coal and iron from North Korea, but in a very limited manner. Unlike the United States sanctions program, the prohibitions do not apply to transactions  “exclusively for livelihood purposes and unrelated to generating revenue for the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs.” As a result of these substantial limitations, any application of the sanctions on coal and iron are likely to be enforced unilaterally by the United States.

Chinese companies are clearly the most susceptible to this designation criteria. According to the press release announcing the Executive Order and designations, “coal generates over $1 billion in revenue per year for North Korea.” Open source reporting also indicates that in 2015, North Korea supplied China with 19.63 metric tons of coal.

Return to a Comprehensive Sanctions Program

In addition to the designation criteria highlighted above, Executive Order 13722 also transitions U.S. sanctions against North Korea back into a comprehensive sanctions program. All property and interests in property of the North Korean government are now blocked, and the Department of Commerce licensing requirements are now supplemented with a prohibition on the exportation of goods and services.

OFAC released a series of 9 General Licenses to address issues that commonly arise from comprehensive programs. These include authorization of certain legal services, certain services in support of nongovernmental organizations,  transactions related to intellectual property, and noncommercial personal remittances.

Article By Jeremy P. Paner of Holland & Hart LLP.
Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2016.

The Day of North Korea Sanctions: the UN Imposes the Toughest North Korea Sanctions Yet While OFAC and State Designate More North Korean Entities

After weeks of negotiations and a Putin-backed delay, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2270 on March 2, 2016, imposing new sanctions against North Korea. According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the resolution imposes the strongest set of UN sanctions in over two decades. This article provides a summary of the new UN North Korea sanctions followed by an overview of the most recent developments in North Korea sanctions under US law.

New UN North Korea Sanctions

The new sanctions require:

  • An asset freeze on all funds and other economic resources owned or controlled by the North Korean government or the Worker’s Party of Korea, if associated with its nuclear or ballistic missile program or other prohibited activities
  • A ban on the opening and operation of North Korean banks abroad
  • A ban on foreign financial institutions opening new offices in North Korea under all circumstances, unless first approved by the Sanctions Committee, and a requirement for UN Member States to order the closing of existing branches if there is credible information indicating the associated financial services are contributing to North Korea’s illicit activities
  • Designation of 16 new individuals and 12 entities (including North Korea’s Ministry of Atomic Energy and the Reconnaissance Energy Bureau)
  • A ban all public and private financial trade support to North Korea if there are reasonable grounds to believe there is a link to proliferation
  • Sectoral sanctions on North Korean trade in natural resources banning the export of all gold, titanium ore, vanadium ore and rare earth metals and banning the supply of all types of aviation fuel, including rocket fuel
  • A ban on the export of coal, iron, and iron ore used for North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programs
  • Inspection of all cargo going to and from North Korea, not just those suspected of containing prohibited items
  • Expanding the arms embargo to include small arms and light weapons
  • A ban leasing or chartering vessels or airplanes, providing crew services to North Korea, and registering vessels
  • Expanding the list of luxury goods (prohibited for export to North Korea) to include luxury watches, aquatic recreational vehicles, snowmobiles worth more than $2,000, lead crystal items and recreational sports equipment
  • A sweeping ban on the transfer of any item if a UN Member State has reason to believe the item can contribute to the development and capabilities of the North Korean armed forces, except for food and medicine

China, a permanent member of the Security Council, joined the unanimous vote despite prior reluctance to strengthen UN sanctions against North Korea. It remains yet to be seen how China will enforce the sanctions.

U.S. North Korea Sanctions

Separately, the United States took action earlier against North Korea. We speculate that this action helped align the UNSC members toward the unanimous vote on UNSCR 2270. On February 18, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016. The bill had easily passed through both Houses of Congress on the heels of the most recent nuclear test and rocket launch by North Korea.

Then on March 2, the U.S. Department of Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named two entities and 10 individuals to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. On the same day, the State Department designated three entities and two individuals for activities related to weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Over the next few months, OFAC is expected to issue new North Korea regulations to implement other provisions of the new statute.

The Act

The new statute provides for both mandatory and discretionary designations. These sanctions are directed at activities by U.S. Persons, which includes any United States citizen, permanent resident alien, any entity organized under the laws of the United States or any jurisdiction within the United States (foreign branches of U.S. companies, that means you too), and any person in the United States.

In addition, any transaction by any non-U.S. persons supporting any of the designated entities or prohibited activities must be carefully scrutinized, especially if the transactions involve the U.S. financial system in any way.

Mandatory Designations

The Act requires the designation and freezing of all assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction of any person that engages in any of the following activities relating to North Korea:

  • Nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation
  • Dealings in North Korean metals and products tied to WMD activities, the Korean Workers’ Party, armed forces, intelligence, or the operation of political prison camps
  • “Significant financial transactions” related to weapons of mass destruction
  • Undermining cybersecurity
  • Internal repression
  • Forced labor
  • Censorship
  • Human rights violations

In addition, the Act requires the President to decide on the designation of North Korea as a Primary Money Laundering Concern in the coming months.

As a result, companies must ensure that no company activity supports the activities of entities designated under the above act provisions. Compliance programs, including those related to anti-money laundering, should be reevaluated as the sanctions are not simple reiterations of previous measures. These mandatory designations will make it all the more necessary that companies maintain reasonable and proportionate due diligence and screening procedures to prevent facilitating the enumerated activities.

Discretionary Designations

Before we reach the current regulation regime, we will leave you with the remaining provisions of the Act that have not yet been implemented. While no one holds the OFAC crystal ball, these provisions may rear their head and are worth considering in advance of promulgation.

1. Blocking sanctions

The Act explicitly codified the blocking of assets of the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea, and North Korean Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). While this sanction is essentially already in effect under the various executive orders, the explicit restrictions would prohibit the use of the U.S. financial system in connection with any transaction with the Government of North Korea, the Workers’ Party of Korea, or SDNs of North Korea.

2. UN Security Council resolutions

The Act also authorizes designation as an SDN of any person who supports a person designated pursuant to an applicable UN Security Council resolution. The potential implications of this Act provision deserve attention as the recent resolution imposed the toughest set of sanctions yet.

3. Bribery

If you thought the FCPA was the sole concern out of U.S. soil relating to bribery of foreign officials, think again. The Act also authorizes designation of any person who knowingly contributes to bribery of a North Korean official, or to misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by, or for the benefit of, a North Korean official.

4. Sanctions grab bag

The Act also authorizes the President to prohibit any person already designated under the above three categories from transactions in foreign exchange or credit or payments subject to U.S. jurisdiction, procurement, and/or travel by the designated person’s officers and shareholders.

Refresher: Pre-Existing OFAC Regulations

The new Act builds upon the pre-existing U.S. sanctions against North Korea. For further background, see Trading Up: Newly Implemented North Korea and Libya Sanctions.

Blocking sanctions

The regulations provide for the continued the blocking of property and interests in property of certain persons with respect to North Korea that had been blocked pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) as of June 2000.Further, the regulations block property and interests in property of persons listed in the Annex to E.O. 13551 and of individuals and entities determined by Treasury in consultation with the State Department to have engaged in activities related to:

  • The import, export, or reexport of arms or related materiel from North Korea

  • The import, export, or reexport of luxury goods to North Korea

  • Money laundering, counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity supporting the Government of North Korea or its senior officials

  • Providing support for or goods or services of any of the above-listed activities or any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13551

  • Owning, controlling, or acting on behalf of any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13551

Vessels

The regulations prohibit U.S. persons from registering, owning, leasing, operating, insuring or otherwise providing support to North Korean vessels.

Imports to North Korea

Lastly in terms of prohibitions, the regulations prohibit imports of goods, services, and technology (including those used as components of finished products of, or substantially transformed in, a third country) from North Korea without an OFAC licenses or applicable exemption.

Authorizations

The preexisting regulations also provided authorization for the provision of certain legal services, emergency medical services, and entries in certain accounts for normal service charges by U.S. financial institutions.

The Takeaway

Interactions with North Korea are an increasingly dangerous minefield of sanctions. The new North Korea sanctions add to an already restrictive program. As a result, we recommend additional review and specialized controls as the new sanctions reach new heights (or depths, depending your level of preparation).

Copyright © 2016, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.