Foreign Financial Institutions Beware: United States Expands Economic Sanctions Against Hizballah

April 15, 2016

Effective April 16, 2016, the United States will implement sanctions pursuant to the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015. The new sanctions target Hezbollah and non-U.S. persons who support and finance Hezbollah’s operations. 

Summary of Prohibitions 

The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) maintains these new sanctions measures under the Hezbollah Financial Sanctions Regulations (“HSFR”)(31 C.F.R. 566). The HSFR generally prohibit foreign financial institutions (“FFI") from knowingly facilitating or engaging in: 

  • A significant transaction for Hezbollah. 
  • A significant transaction for a person placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (“SDN List”) as a result of its involvement with Hezbollah. 
  • Money laundering to carry out the foregoing activities. 
  • A significant transaction or providing significant financial services to carry out the foregoing activities. 

In determining whether a transaction is “significant,” the OFAC may consider the totality of circumstances. A full set of factors is described in the implementing regulations (see 31 C.F.R. 566.404). Notably, the restrictions for FFIs described above mirror secondary sanctions previously in place against Iran. 

Potential Penalties and Additional Considerations 

If an FFI is deemed to have violated these regulations, the President must prohibit or impose “strict conditions” on that FFI’s ability to open or maintain a correspondent or payable-through account in the U.S. In addition, any person that violates, or causes a violation of, these regulations may be subject to civil penalties (the greater of US$250 thousand or twice the amount of the violation) or criminal penalties (up to US$1 million and/or 20 years imprisonment). 

The U.S. had previously designated Hezbollah on the SDN List pursuant to various sanctions laws and regulations relating to Syria; these measures functionally precluded U.S. persons from any dealing with Hezbollah (including entities Hezbollah owns or controls). The new regulations serve notice to the non-U.S. financial sector that the U.S. government is actively scrutinizing dealings with Hezbollah. 

In order to comply with these new measures, we recommend companies remain vigilant in screening all parties to contemplated transactions for connections to individuals or entities listed above as well as entities or individuals listed on the SDN List. 

How Dechert Can Assist 

Sanctions remain an important foreign policy tool used by the United States to address conflicts around the world. As such, these programs remain under constant review. Dechert will remain active in providing alerts. Dechert also can assist with providing risk assessments regarding current and prospective sanctions risk, and assist with obtaining government authorizations. FFIs and non-U.S. companies should seek advice from counsel to ensure that their transactions remain in compliance with ever-expanding and changing U.S. economic sanctions.

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