On 17 October 2014, the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a short guidance paper on the provision of humanitarian assistance by not-for-profit non-governmental-organisations. The guidance is intended to clarify the reach of US sanction legislation and its enforcement with respect to the provision of humanitarian assistance.

In the paper, OFAC reaffirms its commitment to facilitating humanitarian assistance, and refers in brief to a number of possible situations faced by NGOs when providing assistance abroad. The guidance confirms that providing assistance within countries not subject to comprehensive sanctions (e.g Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, or Côte d’Ivoire), even if this includes to individuals or entities under the command or control of a Specially Designated National (SDN), is not per se prohibited.

OFAC urges NGOs to employ due diligence to avoid SDNs from profiting from aid in the area, however does recognise that some humanitarian assistance may unintentionally end up in the hands of sanctioned groups or persons. In such cases, OFAC provides the reassurance that ‘[s]uch incidental benefits are not a focus for OFAC sanctions enforcement’.

Finally, the guidance states that, should an NGO find itself in the position where dealing with an SDN is necessary to ensure the provision of urgent humanitarian assistance, such issues should be addressed on a case-by-case basis through discussion with OFAC.

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About Michael O'Kane

Michael O’Kane is a partner and Head of the Business Crime team at leading UK firm Peters & Peters. Described as ‘first-rate’ (Legal 500 2012), he “draws glowing praise from commentators” (Chambers 2013) for handling the international aspects of business crime, including sanctions, extradition and mutual legal assistance. Called to the Bar in 1992 and prior to joining Peters & Peters he was a senior specialist prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service Headquarters(CPS). At CPS HQ he was a key member of a small specialist unit responsible for the prosecution of serious and high profile fraud, terrorist and special interest criminal matters including the Stansted Airport Afghan hijacking and the prosecution of Paul Burrell (Princess Diana’s butler). Michael joined Peters & Peters in 2002. He became a partner in May 2004, and Head of the Business Crime team in May 2009. Since joining Peters & Peters, Michael has dealt with a wide range of business crime matters. He has particular expertise in international sanctions, criminal cartels, extradition, corruption, mutual legal assistance, and FSA investigations. Described as“ an influential practitioner in fraud and regulatory work, so much so that he is top of the referral lists of many City firms for independent advice for directors” (The Lawyer’s Hot 100 2009), he was recognised as one of the UK’s most innovative lawyers in the 2011 FT Innovative Lawyer Awards and included in the list of the UK's leading lawyers in 'The International Who's Who of Asset Recovery 2012. In 2012 he was the winner of the Global Competition Review Article of the Year. Michael regularly appears on television and radio to discuss his specialist areas and he is the author of the leading textbook on the UK Criminal Cartel Offence “The Law of Criminal Cartels-Practice and Procedure” (Oxford University Press 2009). Recent/Current Sanctions Work • Representing 109 individuals and 12 companies subject to designation by the European Council under targeted measures imposed against Zimbabwe. This is the largest and most complex collective challenge to a sanctions listing ever brought before the European Court. • Acting for a former Egyptian Minister and his UK resident wife, challenging their designation by the European Council of Ministers under targeted measures brought against former members of the Egyptian Government. • Advising a company accused in a UN investigation report to have breached UN sanctions imposed in relation to Somalia. • Advising a UK company in relation to ongoing commercial relationships with an Iranian company listed under both EU and UN sanctions. • Advising an individual in relation to a UK investigation for alleging breaching nuclear export controls.

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