Second Wave of United States Sanctions Against Iran Re-Imposed

Following President Trump’s decision on May 8, 2018 to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), the US government announced that it would re-impose pre-JCPOA nuclear-related Iran sanctions (both primary and secondary) that were lifted under the JCPOA. As we reported previously, two “wind-down” periods—of 90 and 180 days respectively—commenced from the day of the announcement, during which non-US, non-Iranian companies were encouraged by the US government to withdraw from operations in Iran that would be affected by re-imposed sanctions. OFAC’s guidance discouraged non-US persons from engaging in new activity during the wind down periods, and stated that any such new activity may be a factor in connection with future enforcement action for actions taken after the wind-down period.

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FinCEN Issues Advisory Regarding Detection of Illicit Transactions Related to Iran

On October 11, 2018, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) issued official guidance entitled “Advisory on the Iranian Regime’s Illicit and Malign Activities and Attempts to Exploit the Financial System” (the “Advisory”). The Advisory intends to help US financial institutions to “better detect potentially illicit transactions related to the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The Advisory also aims to help foreign financial institutions understand the obligations of their US affiliates and avoid the breach of US sanctions laws.

According to the Advisory, the Iranian regime accesses, and abuses, the international financial system using a variety of methods. These methods include:

  • Using senior officials of the Central Bank of Iran to help procure hard currency and conduct transactions for the benefit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (“IRGC-QF”) and the Lebanese Hizballah.
  • Using exchange houses to hide the origin of funds and to procure foreign currency for the IRGC-QF, through the use of front companies and complex currency exchange networks. Exchange houses and trading companies have also been used to process funds transfers to evade sanctions laws.
  • Using front and shell companies in order to help procure various goods and technologies that enable malign actors to further their illicit activities. Such goods and technologies include printing equipment, dual-use equipment (in support of Iran’s ballistic missile programs), and aviation-related materials.
  • Using deceptive shipping practices to hide the connection between certain business activities and Iran and thus evade US sanctions.
  • Using gold and other precious metals to help facilitate the sale of Iranian oil and other goods, and to further evade the imposition of US sanctions.
  • Using virtual currencies to evade US sanctions.

The Advisory stresses repeatedly that US financial institutions should be particularly cautious at this time, in light of the fact that all sanctions on Iran previously lifted under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) are to be reimposed (or already have been reimposed) following 90- and 180-day wind-down periods. Because of this, FinCEN expects that the evasive, deceptive, and illicit activities described above will increase in frequency. In order to better assist with the detection of deceptive activities, FinCEN provides a set of “red flags” that financial institutions should review and keep in mind when analyzing specific transactions.

Finally, the Advisory reminds US financial institutions of their various obligations under US sanctions laws, the USA Patriot Act, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act (CISADA), and other related regulations.

We continue to monitor developments in this area. Please contact the authors of this newsletter or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact for more information.


Daniel Hudson
Daniel Hudson
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2470
Jonathan Cross
Jonathan Cross
Partner, New York
+1 917 542 7824
David Atia
David Atia
Associate, New York
+1 917 542 7841

First wave of United States sanctions against Iran re-imposed on 7 August 2018, as the amended EU Blocking Statute comes into effect on the same day

End of first wind-down period

Following President Trump’s decision on 8 May 2018 to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”), the US government announced that it would re-impose pre-JCPOA nuclear related sanctions (both primary and secondary) that were lifted under the JCPOA. As we reported previously, two ‘wind-down’ periods – of 90 and 180 days respectively – commenced from the day of the announcement, during which non-US, non-Iranian companies were encouraged by the US government to withdraw from operations in Iran that would be affected by re-imposed sanctions.

On 6 August 2018 the first of these wind-down periods expired. President Trump issued a new Executive Order (“New EO”) re-imposing sanctions effective as of 7 August 2018. For our full briefing on the matter, please click here.


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In May, we published an e-bulletin discussing President Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – “JCPOA“), and that all pre-JCPOA nuclear-related sanctions on Iran (including secondary sanctions) would be re-imposed.

The European Union, along with leaders of the other countries party to the JCPOA (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia and China) have all reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA. Continue reading


On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States will completely withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (the “JCPOA“). The JCPOA, signed in July 2015 and implemented on January 16, 2016, lifted most US nuclear related secondary sanctions and certain US primary sanctions targeting Iran. Prior to the JCPOA, the US had also imposed a broad range of “secondary sanctions” – applicable to dealings of non-US persons with sanctioned Iranian parties – in a number of key economic sectors in Iran, including automobile, energy and finance. The President’s announcement today states that all pre-JCPOA nuclear related sanctions will be re-imposed (both primary and secondary), and indicates that the US may impose new and additional sanctions in the future, going beyond the already highly restrictive sanctions regime which preceded the JCPOA. Continue reading


Following the announcement of the new strategies on Iran in October 2017, on January 12, 2018, the Trump administration announced that it will continue to waive the application of certain nuclear sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) as a “last chance.” In a statement, the President states that he intends to pursue a supplemental agreement with European allies of the US, and in the absence of such an agreement, the United States will ultimately withdraw from the JCPOA. Continue reading


President Trump has repeatedly criticised the ‘Iran deal’, referring to it as an ‘embarrassment’ for the United States. On 13 October 2017, he laid out new strategies his administration is taking concerning Iran. In a speech delivered at the White House, he also announced that his administration will not certify Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”). Such a step raises the spectre of sanctions being reimposed and may well disrupt foreign direct investment in Iran. Continue reading


Iran Nuclear Deal Recertified with New Sanctions Imposed

On July 17, the US President certified Iranian compliance with the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Under the JCPOA, Iran is reducing its nuclear capacity in exchange for nuclear-related sanction relief from the US, EU, and UN Security Council. This recertification comes despite the US President's statements that he did not want to certify compliance. The recent recertification signals the United States' continued willingness to maintain the sanctions relaxation implemented through the JCPOA, at least in the short term.

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US Senate votes to impose new sanctions on Iran

The US Senate has voted to impose an array of new sanctions with respect to Iran, related to Iran's alleged activity concerning its ballistic missile program, international terrorism, and arms supply and training. The bill serves as a reminder that, notwithstanding the continued implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action ("JCPOA"), tensions between the US and Iran have the potential to lead to additional and significant sanctions.

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