OFAC Sanctions and Blocked Assets

 

What happens to one’s money, property, and bank accounts when they are blocked?

OFAC Attorney: If it is a financial transaction, the money is placed in an interest-bearing account at the bank that performed the blocking and there is a broad prohibition against any other transactions related to that money. It will remain blocked until the blocked person in the transaction is no longer a blocked person appearing on the SDN list. The only circumstance under which the money can be unblocked is when the sanctions against that person are lifted.

If the blocking was a mistake, the person can file a specific license application explaining the mistake (e.g., that they have the same name as somebody who is on the SDN List) and request that the funds be unblocked. If a statement of licensing policy exists (e.g., for payment of legal services from blocked sources), OFAC will authorize the unblocking of a portion of the money pursuant to a specific license. You can read about that process in the following pdf report.

Can OFAC subpoenas, investigations, or violations affect someone’s immigration status?

OFAC Attorney: It depends on the circumstances. If an OFAC investigation is referred for criminal prosecution and the person who caused a violation is in the United States with a visa or permanent residency, they could be subject to deportation or removal proceedings if a conviction is made. Usually, in the context of a civil investigation, there is no threat to a person’s immigration status.

There is a difference, however, between having the sanctions enforced against you and having sanctions imposed against you.  People on the SDN list are usually restricted from traveling to the United States and getting visas. If a foreign person is on the SDN list, there is a good chance that they have also lost the privilege of obtaining a visa to visit the United States.

What common mistakes can result in someone being served a subpoena?

OFAC Attorney: The issuance of an OFAC subpoena can happen under a myriad of circumstances. There are too many ways in which a person or a company can be served a subpoena to create a comprehensive list.

One example I have seen is when a salesperson for a company does not check against the SDN list when dealing with international clients.  The sales person then approves the sale of goods to a person on the SDN List.   When OFAC finds out about the situation, either from an informant or possibly an intelligence report, the agency will likely send an administrative subpoena to the company demanding disclosure of all the facts, documents, and communications related to that transaction.  The sanctions regulations require all U.S. persons to maintain records for at least five years, and to make such records available upon the agency’s request.

Another way in which someone can be served a subpoena is if their bank observes suspicious account activity and notifies OFAC or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) with a suspicious activity report.  Unfortunately banks are prohibited by law from informing their customers of their decision to file a suspicious activity report.  If the transaction described in the report appears to be a sanctions violation, OFAC may send an administrative subpoena to the accountholder for further investigation.

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