On February 14, 2019, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it had assessed a civil monetary penalty of over $5.5 million dollars against AppliChem GmbH (AppliChem) of Darmstadt, Germany (a company that manufactures chemicals and reagents for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries) for 304 violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 (CACR). Specifically, OFAC determined that between May 2012 and February 2016, after it had been purchased by a U.S. company and come within the jurisdiction of the U.S. sanctions on Cuba, AppliChem sold chemical reagents to Cuba. 19 C.F.R. § 515.201.

Pedro Szekely

A.The U.S. Company’s Merger and Acquisition Due Diligence Team Successfully Identified the Cuban Sanctions Issue.

On January 1, 2012, Illinois Tool Works, Inc. (ITW), a company based in Glenview, Illinois, acquired AppliChem. In December 2011, during its merger and acquisition due diligence, ITW discovered references to countries subject to U.S. economic and trade sanctions on AppliChem’s website. That same month, ITW told AppliChem it would be required to cease all Cuban transactions after it was acquired. ITW then incorporated AppliChem into its Reagents Division, and allowed AppliChem’s former owners to stay on as manager-employees. On January 12, 2012, the General Manager of ITW’s Reagents Division sent AppliChem’s former owners a memorandum explaining ITW’s guidelines for complying with U.S. sanctions, including the CACR.

B. Willful Evasion by the Non-U.S. Entity and Persons Working for It.

However, despite these warnings, AppliChem continued to complete and collect on existing orders with Cuba under pre-acquisition contracts. Upon discovering AppliChem’s continued Cuban business, ITW’s European legal department sent a third warning to AppliChem’s former owners on April 5, 2012 to immediately cease all sales to Cuba.

In late January, 2016, an anonymous report was made through ITW’s ethics helpline. The call alleged that AppliChem had continued making sales to Cuba through an intermediary company in Berlin, Germany. ITW began a full investigation, which revealed that AppliChem’s former owners had continued AppliChem’s Cuba business by creating a scheme that concealed this business from ITW after having been specifically told by ITW to cease Cuban sales.

Rather than ceasing sales to Cuba as directed by ITW, between February 2012 and April 2012, AppliChem designed and implemented what it called the “Caribbean Procedures” (whereby Cuba was referred to by the code word “Caribbean”), which made sure that no documents mentioning Cuba would be prepared or retained by AppliChem in connection with its continued business with the country. Pursuant to the Caribbean Procedures, AppliChem engaged an external logistics company and an independent hazardous materials consultant to prepare the necessary shipping documents and hazardous materials declarations, which previously had been handled internally.

Once AppliChem implemented the Caribbean Procedures, AppliChem senior management conducted both written and in-person training sessions for AppliChem’s staff, particularly those working in the logistics department, to ensure that Cuba-related sales would be concealed from ITW. The reasons for the implementation of the Caribbean Procedures were “well known to AppliChem staff during this time” and were described by AppliChem staff as an “open secret” at AppliChem. Consequently, between May 2012 and February 2016, AppliChem fulfilled Cuban orders on 304 invoices. The transaction value of the shipments made during this time was €2,833,701 (approximately $3,433,495).

C.  OFAC Investigation and Results

OFAC determined that ITW voluntarily self-disclosed the violations on behalf of AppliChem, and that the violations constituted an egregious case. The statutory maximum civil monetary penalty applicable in this matter was over $20 million dollars. The base civil monetary penalty was over $10 million dollars.

OFAC determined the following to be aggravating factors:

(1) the willful conduct of AppliChem’s management;

(2) the use of written procedures to engage in a pattern of conduct in violation of the CACR;

(3) AppliChem’s sales to Cuba of approximately $3,433,495 in 304 transactions over the course of five years caused significant harm to the sanctions program objective of maintaining a comprehensive embargo on Cuba; and

(4) the size and sophistication of AppliChem, with an average annual revenue of around $23 million between 2012 and 2015, and the fact that it is a subsidiary of ITW, a large international company.

OFAC determined the following to be mitigating factors:

Once ITW discovered ApliChem’s perfidy, it cooperated by filing a thorough voluntary self-disclosure with OFAC, providing prompt responses to requests for information, performing a thorough internal investigation, and signing a tolling agreement on behalf of AppliChem.

This case demonstrates the importance of auditing and verifying foreign subsidiaries. In contrast to previous enforcement actions in which a buyer failed to identify a sanctions exposure, ITW identified the sales and took steps to ensure they ceased. The issue arose because of its new subsidiary’s ability to circumvent those instructions and hide ongoing sales, underscoring the importance of verifying that internal procedures are being followed. Further, U.S. companies with international operations should consider:

(i) implementing risk-based controls, such as regular audits, to ensure subsidiaries are complying with their obligations under OFAC’s sanctions regulations;

(ii) performing follow-up due diligence on acquisitions of foreign persons known to engage in historical transactions with sanctioned persons and jurisdictions; and

(iii) appropriately responding to derogatory information regarding the sanctions compliance efforts of foreign persons subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

If you have any questions regarding this penalty decision or any other aspect of U.S. economic sanctions, please do not hesitate to contact our team.