Sanctions & Export Controls: EU emergency talks on Belarus crisis; seizure of millions of dollars in Bitcoin used to finance terrorist groups

In August 2020, the Ministry of Finance of the Netherlands published a new guideline on financial sanctions regulations. In Europe, the Council published a declaration in response to the presidential elections in Belarus and noted that it will conduct an in-depth review of the European Union (“EU”) relations with Belarus, which will include the imposition of sanctions. In the United States of America (“US”), the US Secretary of State announced the suspension of private charter flights between the US and Cuba, in the hope to further weaken the Castro regime. Moreover, in the US, the Department of Justice announced the largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency accounts meant to fund terrorist groups. This, and more, in this newsletter.

1. The Netherlands

  • Ministry of Finance: Financial Sanctions Regulations Guideline

On 12 August 2020, the Ministry of Finance of the Netherlands published a guideline on financial sanctions regulations, explaining how individuals, companies and organizations should deal with financial sanctions. The guideline includes an overview of sanctions regulations, an outline of the Dutch Sanctions Act 1977 (Sanctiewet 1977), the different sanctions applicable in the Netherlands, how financial sanctions are supervised, the relationship between the Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorist Financing Act (Wwft) and the Sanctions Act 1977, an explanation of the Financial Action Task Force and more.

  • Competent authorities per sanctions regulation

On 12 August 2020, the Government of the Netherlands published an overview of national authorities competent to impose certain sanctions.

  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Answers to parliamentary questions

On 14 August 2020, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stef Blok, answered questions of the House of Representatives on the annotated agenda for the informal video conference of the members of the Foreign Affairs Council of 14 August 2020. Concerning the situation in Belarus. The Minister notes the need of an investigation, in EU context, of targeted sanctions against individuals involved in the violence against peaceful protestors and journalist, and individuals involved in the alleged ballot box fraud. According to Blok, it is important that the EU relationship with Belarus will be critically assessed. Moreover, the Minister stipulates that certain sanctions against Belarus are already in place, including an arms embargo and a ban on the export of goods that can be used for internal repression.

  • Volksbank: Departure of CFO and US Greencard related issues of new CEO

According to a press release of Dutch bank de Volksbank of 14 August 2020, the Supervisory Board of the Dutch bank has decided to part ways with Pieter Veuger, Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) of de Volksbank. “The Supervisory Board concludes that the dynamics between the members of the Board of Directors does not provide an adequate basis for constructive cooperation”, the press release states. On that same day – 14 August 2020 – BNR Radio published an article stating that the new Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of de Volksbank, Martijn Gribau, would not have given up his American work permit, meaning that he and transactions of de Volksbank directly or indirectly involving Mr. Gribau would fall under US sanctions law. The current CEO of de Volksbank, Maurice Oostendorp denies this: “We have analyzed these consequences of having a Green Card, nothing has been concealed“. Sebastiaan Bennink, partner of BenninkAmar Advocaten, was interviewed by BNR Radio regarding this matter. The interview can be found here.

2. European Union

  • EU / Belarus – On 11 August 2020, the Council of the EU published a declaration in response to the presidential elections in Belarus. The Council noted that the elections “were neither free nor fair” while “during the electoral campaign, the people of Belarus have demonstrated the desire for democratic chance”. The EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to “release immediately and unconditionally all detained” during the demonstrations. The EU declared that it will conduct an in-depth review of the EU’s relations with Belarus. “This may include, inter alia, taking measures [sanctions] against those responsible for the observed violence, unjustified arrests, and falsification of election results”.

  • EU / Venezuela – On 12 August 2020, the Council of the EU published a declaration on the alignment of certain third countries concerning the EU’s restrictive measures in view of the situation in Venezuela. On 29 June 2020, the Council added 11 persons to its sanctions list concerning Venezuela. North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland Liechtenstein, Norway, Ukraine, Moldovia and Georgia have now aligned themselves with this Council decision.

3. United States of America

A. US – China (/ Hong Kong) Relations

  • On 8 August 2020, two financial authorities in Hong Kong published statements regarding the recent US sanctions imposed against 11 Hong Kong officials, including Carrie lam. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority stated that authorized institutions “are reminded of the need to establish and implement policies for their Hong Kong businesses (in response to US sanctions) that are informed  by a thorough assessment of any legal, business and commercial risks involved and based on a balanced approach”. Moreover, it is noted that “unilateral sanctions imposed by foreign governments […] have no legal status in Hong Kong. The Securities and Futures Commission added to this that any response to the sanctions needs to be “necessary, fair, and have regard to the best interests of their clients and the integrity of the market”.

  • On 10 August 2020, China designated 11 US nationals in response to the recent US sanctions, discussed above. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson noted in response to the US sanctions that “such behaviour openly meddles with Hong Kong affairs, blatantly interferes in China’s internal affairs, and gravely violates international law and basic norms governing international relations. China firmly rejects and condemns it”. Reacting to the sanctions of the US “China has decided to impose sanctions on [certain individuals] with egregious behaviour on Hong Kong-related issues”.

B. US – Cuba Relations

  • On 13 August 2020, the US Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, announced the suspension of private charter flights between the US and Cuba. Exceptions will be made for “authorized public charter flights […] and other authorized private charter flights for emergency medical purposes, search and rescue, and other travel deemed in the interest of the United States”. Pompeo explained that the measures are meant to “target and cut the revenue the Cuban government earns from landing fees, stays in regime-owned hotels, and other travel-related income”. Moreover, reference is made to Cuba’s interference in Venezuela and its support for the Maduro regime as a reason for the measures. According to a press release of the US Department of Transportation, the suspension will become effective on 13 October 2020.

C. Other

  • US / Sudan – On 11 August 2020, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) published the Sudan Program and Darfur Sanctions Guidance. The guidance notes that “the national emergency declared with respect to the Government of Sudan […] remains in effect, as expanded upon in scope by subsequent [executive orders] to include the violence in Sudan’s Darfur region”.

  • On 13 August 2020, the US Department of Justice, announced the “largest ever seizure of terrorist organisations’ cryptocurrency accounts”, involving the al-Qassam Brigdes, Hamas’s military wing, al-Qaeda, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). According to the press release, “each group used cryptocurrency and social media to garner attention and raise funds for their terror campaigns. Pursuant to judicially-authorized warrants, U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars, over 300 cryptocurrency accounts, four websites, and four Facebook pages all related to the criminal enterprise”.

  • US / Iran – On 14 August 2020, the US Department of Justice announced the largest US seizure of Iranian fuel, from a shipment by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that was bound for Venezuela. The multimillion-dollar shipment contained in total approximately 1.116 million barrels of petroleum. After enforcement of the seizure order, Iran’s navy allegedly “forcibly boarded an unrelated ship in an apparent attempt to recover the seized petroleum, but was unsuccessful”. The case is now under investigation in the US.

4. Around the Globe

  • UNSC / IranOn 14 August 2020, the United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) announced its failure to adopt a draft resolution – proposed by the US – aimed at extending arms-related restrictions on Iran, bound to expire in October 2020.


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