IRAN SANCTIONS TALKS EXTENDED BY ANOTHER 7 MONTHS

We previously reported on the Joint Plan of Action, under which Iran and the P5+1 or EU3+3 countries (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, UK and USA) agreed a number of measures in November 2013 towards lifting sanctions in exchange for undertakings about Iran’s nuclear programme.  The sanctions provisions in the Joint Plan of Action are here.

The E3+3 and Iran have been engaged in negotiations to try reach a long term comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and sanctions.  The Joint Plan of Action was extended in July until 24 November 2014 (today).  The long term solution, in which the Joint Plan of Action is supposed to be the first step, aims to result in “the comprehensive lifting of all UN Security Council sanctions, as well as multilateral and national sanctions relating to Iran’s nuclear programme” while ensuring that “Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful” and in which Iran “reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons”.

Those countries have announced today that they have failed to reach a long-term agreement after talks in Vienna, and will again extend the JPA until the end of June 2015.  Reports suggest that the terms of the extension of time are that Iran will continue to see $700 million of its assets unfrozen from international bank accounts every month, in exchange for an ongoing halt to uranium enrichment beyond 5%.

All other EU sanctions and restrictions remain in place and in force.  The European Union’s sanctions relating to Iran are on the ‘sanctions in force’ section of this blog.

UAE IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON ‘TERRORIST’ ORGANISATIONS

The UAE has announced that it has added 86 terrorist organisations and groups to its sanctions list aimed at ‘combatting terrorist crimes’ (pursuant to Federal Law No. 7 of 2014).

The groups now listed include ISIS, Al-Qaida, the Yemeni Houthi movement, the Muslim Brotherhood and a number of civil society organisations and think tanks. The effect of their inclusion is that the organisations cannot operate in or receive funds from the UAE.

The US government has rejected the UAE’s labelling of two US Muslim groups (the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society) as ‘terrorist’ groups. After several organisations criticised their inclusion in the list, a senior UAE official announced that groups placed on the list can appeal against their designation if their “approach has changed”.

UN SANCTIONS ANSAR AL-SHARIA

On 18 November 2014, the United Nations Security Council’s Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee imposed targeted sanctions on the Libyan Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia. Both the organisation’s Benghazi and Derna branches are now subject to restrictive measures.

The sanctions consist of an asset freeze, travel ban in UN Member States and an arms embargo. The groups have been listed because of their association with Al-Qaida and their role in ‘[running] training camps for foreign terrorist fighters travelling to Syria, Iraq and Mali’.

The US has already imposed sanctions Ansar al-Sharia for its role in the Benghazi consulate attack in 2012 in which four American citizens were killed.

 

EU COURT APPLIES KADI 2 TO SYRIA SANCTIONS – ANNULS INCLUSION OF HAMCHO, KADDOUR AND JABER

195px-european_court_of_justice_insignia-svgThe General Court of the European Union (Seventh Chamber) handed down 3 judgments on 13 November 2014 annulling the inclusion of 3 people on the EU’s sanctions (restrictive measures) relating to Syria: Case T-653/11 Jaber v Council, Case T-654/11 Kaddour v Council and Case T-43/12 Hamcho v Council (the judgments are currently only available in French).

The 3 cases raise similar issues.  The reasons published by the Council for including the 3 applicants were that they were all alleged to be associates of Maher Al Assad.  Mr Kaddour and Mr Hamcho were also said to be businessmen who provide “financial support” to the Syrian regime, “allowing violence against demonstrators”, and Mr Jaber was said to be “directly involved in the violent repression of the Syrian civilian population”. All 3 applicants, first listed in 2011, challenged these allegations as being incorrect and unsupported by evidence.

The General Court applied Article 47 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (the right to a fair trial and effective remedy), as applied by the Court of Justice in Kadi 2 (as it has done in a number of recent Iran judgements, but the position has been more mixed in the Syria case law so far).  In other words, the Court confirmed that where the reasons provided for a person’s listing are challenged, it is for the Council to prove the reasons, with evidence, and not for the listed person to disprove them.  The Council could not do so in these cases – it relied only on press reports which did not substantiate its conclusions, and it had therefore “manifestly erred” in its assessment.

As has become standard practice in sanctions cases in the General Court, the Court did not annul the inclusion of these people straight away, but maintained the measures until the period for the Council appealing (2 months) has expired.  The Court ordered the Council to bear its own costs and pay one third of the costs of each of the applicants, on the basis that they had won their cases but only on one of their grounds for annulment.

The European Court of Justice (the EU appeals court) last Tuesday heard an appeal in Anbouba v Council (see previous blog on General Court judgment here), another Syria sanctions case, which raises the lawfulness of the Council relying on general presumption that successful Syrian businessmen must provide financial support to the Assad regime. Maya Lester is part of that legal team on appeal.

BANK OF TOKYO AGREES EXTRA $315 MILLION SETTLEMENT FOR US SANCTIONS VIOLATIONS

On 18 November 2014, the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ (BTMU) agreed to pay a $315 million penalty and sanction two employees for misleading regulators over its transactions with Iran, Myanmar and Sudan in violation of US sanctions. The penalty comes in addition to a $250 million fine already levied on BTMU in 2013 for the sanctions violations themselves.

BTMU employees were accused by US authorities of pressuring a consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers, to alter the content of a report it produced on wire transfers performed by the bank on behalf of sanctioned companies and entities.

 

EU SANCTIONS TO TARGET UKRAINIAN SEPARATISTS

On 17 November 2014, the Council of the European Union met in Brussels to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The Council announced that ‘having assessed the situation on the ground’ it will impose ‘additional listings targeting [Ukrainian] separatists’ involved in the recent disputed elections.

The EU will publish the names of the new sanctions targets to be added to the list of those subject to asset freezes and travel bans once a list of subjects has been agreed. The measures will target individuals accused of destabilising the country through the holding of disputed local elections in eastern Ukraine in early November 2014. The EU has repeatedly stated that it views the elections as illegal, while the outcome of the elections was recognised by Moscow.

Although the ministers discussed the issue, no decision was taken to impose further sanctions on Russia in addition to the latest round of sanctions (see our previous blog post here).

We will publish the names of the new sanctions targets on this blog once they are announced. A full list of sanctions currently in force against Russia and Ukraine can be found on the ‘sanctions in force’ section of this blog.

 

ADVOCATE GENERAL’S OPINION IN EIH: BEWARE RELIANCE ON NATIONAL AUTHORITIES’ AUTHORISATIONS?

We reported last September on the judgment of the General Court of the European Union in Case T-434/11 Europäisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG (EIH) v Council (6 September 2014).  The General Court annulled a previous inclusion of EIH (a German bank) on the EU’s sanctions measures relating to Iran, but did not annul a subsequent version, which listed EIH for assisting Iranian banks to carry out financial transitions with sanctioned entities and circumventing sanctions. The General Court rejected EIH’s argument that those transactions were authorised by the German Bundesbank (the natural authority competent to grant licences to authorise the release of frozen funds) and therefore the Council could not designate it on the basis that it had breached or circumvented sanctions.

EIH appealed to the Court of Justice.  Advocate General Mengozzi has just given his Opinion, in Case C-585/13 P.  AG Mengozzi’s view is that the General Court was correct, and he recommends that the ECJ should reject all of EIH’s grounds of appeal.

Some of the Opinion is about whether the General Court was right to have held that some of EIH’s arguments were raised too late to be admissible.  Of more general significance (whether one agrees with it or not) is his opinion on the relevance and role of the authorisations / licences given by national authorities which permit exceptions to EU asset freezing measures.  The Advocate General’s view, in summary, is that the General Court was right to have held that:

1) The Bundesbank should not have been granting general authorisations, as opposed to case-by-case authorisations.

2) Exceptions to asset freezes should be construed narrowly.  “What is in issue is an exception to the principle of the freezing of funds which, by its very nature, must be interpreted strictly”.

3) Licensing decisions by national authorities cannot bind the Council in imposing and interpreting EU sanctions measures.  A national authorisation “does not provide an absolute guarantee, for the decision of the national authority does not automatically confer a stamp of lawfulness on the authorised transition in the light of the regulations laying down the legal framework of the restrictive measures system.  Sight must not be lost of the fact that the national authorities, when deciding on a request for authorisation, may have only limited information at their disposal and it is easily conceivable that an entity making such a request might conceal certain information about the planned transactions in order to secure authorisation”.

4) An entity such as EIH can be held by the Council to have been circumventing sanctions, even where the transactions at issue have been expressly authorised, where the authorisations granted are inconsistent with the purpose of the EU sanctions regulations.

Advocate General’s opinions are not binding on the Court of Justice, but offer an independent analysis.  The next step in the case will be a judgment from the Court of Justice.

G20 LEADERS WARN PUTIN OF FURTHER SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA OVER UKRAINE

The G20 leaders have warned President Putin at their meeting in Brisbane (Australia) that they may impose increased sanctions on Russia if the President does not stop supporting secessionist groups in eastern Ukraine.

News reports suggest that leaders talked of new banking, energy and defence sanctions, and that Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) said that the EU was likely next week to add Russian separatists in Ukraine to the list of individuals subject to EU measure imposing asset freezes and travel bans (which are all on the ‘sanctions in force’ section of this blog).

British Prime Minister David Cameron said at a press conference: “If Russia continues to destabilise Ukraine there will be further sanctions. There is a cost to sanctions, but there would be a far greater cost to allow a frozen conflict on the continent of Europe to be maintained. President Putin can see he is at a crossroads.”  US President Obama said that the US was not actively considering further sanctions on Russia now (“at this point, the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good”) but would consider doing so if Russia did not change its policies. If President Putin choses to seek a diplomatic solution the US will be the first country to suggest rolling back the current sanctions “that are frankly having a devastating effect on the Russian economy”.

In an interview on German television, President Putin said of the sanctions imposed by the west: “Do they want to bankrupt our banks? In that case they will bankrupt Ukraine. Have they thought about what they are doing at all or not? Or has politics blinded them? As we know eyes constitute a peripheral part of brain. Was something switched off in their brains?”