About Maya Lester QC

Maya Lester QC has a wide ranging practice in public law, European law, competition law, international law, human rights & civil liberties. She has a particular expertise in sanctions. As the most recent (2016) Chambers & Partners directory put it, she "owns the world of sanctions". She spent 2011-12 in New York at Columbia Law School lecturing and writing on sanctions. She represents and advises hundreds of companies and individuals before the European and English courts and has acted in most of the leading cases, including Kadi, Tay Za, Central Bank of Iran, NITC and IRISL.

Russian Supreme Court case on sanctions and lease rescission

Russia’s Supreme Court will give judgment on an appeal brought by the proprietor of office premises in Russia leased to VTB Bank before VTB was subject to US, Canadian, and EU sectoral sanctions. VTB brought the claim for a declaration that it had validly rescinded this lease when sanctions were imposed. The first instance court held that the lease had been validly rescinded because the imposition of sanctions on VTB constituted “an exceptional and unforeseen circumstance…which the parties did not except while entering into the contract”, and its findings were upheld on appeal to the Court of Cassation. The case name is VTB v Luisa Bikmaeva (Case А39-5782/2015).

Iran signs trade and banking agreement with Pakistan

Trade and banking relations between Pakistan and Iran are set to grow, following the signing of a trade-settlement mechanism between the countries’ central banks. The agreement, signed with the intention of promoting bilateral trade between Pakistan and Iran, was made possible by the lifting of several US sanctions on Iran under the JCPOA last year (see previous blog).

USA – Iran, ISIL, & Al-Qaida designations

Iran

OFAC has sanctioned the Tehran Prisons Organisation and a senior official within Iran’s State Prison Organisation, Sohrab Soleimani, in connection with alleged serious human rights abuses in Tehran’s Evin Prison. Tehran Prisons Organisation, which Soleimani previously headed up and now oversees in his current role, is allegedly responsible for abuses against political prisoners housed in Evin Prison, including an incident in April 2014 in which several political prisoners are said to have been brutally attacked by prison staff.  In its press release, the US Treasury said that the US would “vigorously exercise its sanctions authorities outside the scope of the JCPOA to counter the Iranian government’s support for terrorism, ballistic missile programme, regional destabilisation, and human rights abuses”.

ISIL & Al-Qaida

Two ISIL financial facilitators in Libya, Ali al-Safrani and Abd Zarqun, and Algerian ISIL supporter Hamma Hamani have been designated by OFAC as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.  Al-Safrani and Abd Zarqun are said to be high-level leaders within ISIL, and Hamani is said to have supported ISIL and trafficked weapons in Libya. The Treasury’s press release is here.

In addition, the US State Department has designated 2 Canadian citizens, Tarek Sakr and Farah Shirdon, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Sakr is said to have conducted sniper training in Syria and been linked to Syrian al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusrah Front. Shirdon is allegedly a prominent ISIL fighter and recruiter who has also been involved in fundraising. The State Department’s press release is here.

Sharif University’s ECJ appeal rejected

The European Court of Justice has dismissed the appeal brought by Sharif University of Technology against the General Court’s judgment declining to annul its listing on the EU’s sanctions against Iran (see previous blog). SUT was listed for providing support for the government of Iran. See Case C-385/16 P Sharif University of Technology v Council [2017].

The Court dismissed SUT’s first argument, that the General Court had not considered one of SUT’s grounds for annulment, because the ECJ said the University had not raised it before the General Court. The ECJ upheld the General Court’s interpretation of the listing criterion of providing “support, such as material, logistical, or financial support, to the Government of Iran” as not requiring any connection with Iran’s nuclear activities.  It held that the General Court had been correct to find that SUT provided support to the Iranian government for these purposes because it had been involved with the government in military (as opposed to nuclear) or military-related fields, evidenced by agreements between SUT and the government of Iran involving the production of satellites, participation in smart boat competitions, and work for Iran’s air force.

EU renews its human rights sanctions on Iran

The EU has renewed its human rights sanctions on Iran until 13 April 2018.  The sanctions currently impose a travel ban and asset freeze on 82 people and 1 entity, as well as a ban on exports to Iran of equipment which might be used for internal repression or monitoring telecommunications. See Implementing Regulation 2017/685 implementing Regulation 359/2011 and Decision 2017/689 amending Decision 2011/235/CFSP.

House of Commons report on Russia sanctions and Brexit

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has published a report on the UK’s relations with Russia (link to the report here) which addresses sanctions on Russia.

The report notes that the UK is one of the strongest western supporters of sanctions on Russia, that “recent developments in both the EU and US have put the future of the sanctions regime in doubt”, and that “its withdrawal from the EU might add weight to the voices of those inside the bloc who would like to see the sanctions eased or lifted”.  It states therefore that:

“if the UK is determined to maintain a principled stance in relation to the sanctions on Russia, this may require uncomfortable conversations with close allies. The withdrawal of the existing sanctions should be linked to Russia’s compliance with its obligations towards Ukraine, and should not be offered in exchange for Russian cooperation in other areas… The challenge in this approach is that the practical effect of economic sanctions on Russian decision-making is doubtful. It looks as though it will be increasingly difficult to sustain a united western position on sanctions, not least if they becoming a bargaining point during Brexit negotiations”.

The committee calls on the international community to remain unified and that the FCO should continue to work closely with the EU to maintain support for Ukraine, whether through sanctions or otherwise. It notes that it is difficult to measure the impact of the sanctions on Russia’s economy, and heard from a number of witnesses who suggested that the sanctions may be cementing support for President Putin. It supported the introduction of “Magnitsky-style” sanctions against those responsible for gross human rights abuses in Russia, noting that “Russia’s actions demonstrating compliance with the rule of international law in Ukraine could be linked to the gradual removal of sanctions”.  The report states that people associated with the Putin regime and responsible for human rights violations use British financial and legal services and have other links with the UK, and suggests introducing sanctions along the lines set out in the Criminal Finances Bill (which would allow the UK to seize the UK-held property of targeted people).

The Committee called on the FCO to clarify by March 2018 “how the UK will impose sanctions post-Brexit, explain whether Brexit would entail changes from the current sanctions regime and analyse the costs and benefits of the possible models for future UK-administered sanctions”.  As noted in our previous blog, the UK government is to introduce a Bill on post-Brexit sanctions policy soon, and there is a House of Lords inquiry (blog here) on post-Brexit UK sanctions policy.

US to introduce new sanctions on Syria

At the end of last week, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the US will impose new sanctions on the Syrian government, aimed at preventing its use of chemical weapons.  Mnuchin said that the administration viewed sanctions as “a very important tool”, and that the new sanctions would be introduced in the “near future”. G7 foreign ministers are currently meeting in Italy, where they will discuss imposing new sanctions on Syrian and Russian military officers (see previous blog).

EU annuls listing of Alkarim on Syria sanctions

The General Court of the EU has annulled a listing of Alkarim for Trade and Industry LLC, a Syrian firm involved in trading lubricants and base oils, from the EU’s sanctions on Syria.  Alkarim remains listed for reasons given in subsequent listings that it did not challenge.

The challenged reasons for Alkarim’s listing were “Parent company of Pangates with operational control of it. As such it is providing support to and benefiting from the Syrian regime. It is also associated with listed Syrian oil company Sytrol”. See Case T-35/15 Alkarim for Trade and Industry LLC v Council [2017]. The Council said these reasons showed that Alkarim benefited from and supported the regime, and was associated with a listed entity, Sytrol.

The Court found that the Council had not provided sufficient evidence to support its assertions that Alkarim was the parent company of Pangates, a listed firm, and that it was associated with Sytrol, or that it was associated with the Syrian regime. The judgment contains comments about the circumstances in which applicants can rely on evidence submitted late. The Council was ordered to pay Alkarim’s costs.