President Trump Issues New Executive Order Blocking Property of the Government of Venezuela

On August 5, 2019, President Trump issued a new Executive Order (“EO“), blocking all property and interests in property of the Government of Venezuela (defined to include the Central Bank of Venezuela and Petróleos de Venezuela (“PdVSA“)) in the US or in the possession of US persons. The EO also empowers the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to block the property and interests in property of individuals or entities that materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to, any “specially designated nationals” (“SDNs“) or blocked persons under the EO, or entities owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of the foregoing. As is common practice, the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC“) has issued revised FAQs and a number of revised and new general licenses (“GLs“) authorizing certain limited activities by US persons involving the Government of Venezuela. These licenses relate primarily to the maintenance or winding down of existing activities with the Government of Venezuela, humanitarian efforts in the country, and other non-commercial and administrative tasks.

The EO follows months of incremental tightening of sanctions on Venezuela, meant to place increased pressure on the Maduro regime, and the expiration of a number of GLs authorizing certain activities in Venezuela. For US persons and companies, the EO further limits their ability to do business in Venezuela if that business involves the Government of Venezuela. For non-US persons and companies, the EO creates a new basis for the imposition of secondary sanctions, authorizing the sanctions designation of non-US persons who engage in material transactions with the Government of Venezuela.

The EO

The EO blocks all property and interests in property, in the US or in the possession of US persons, of the Government of Venezuela, including those entities owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the Government of Venezuela (such as the Central Bank of Venezuela, as well as PdVSA). The EO also empowers the Secretary of Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to block the property and interests in property of individuals or entities that materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to, any SDNs or blocked persons under the EO, or entities owned, controlled by, or acting on behalf of the foregoing.

OFAC’s amended FAQs make clear that the US has stopped short of imposing a full embargo on Venezuela: “US persons are not prohibited from engaging in transactions involving the country or people of Venezuela, provided blocked persons or any conduct prohibited by any other Executive order imposing sanctions measures related to the situation in Venezuela, are not involved.”

General licenses

OFAC has revised several existing GLs to authorize certain transactions that would otherwise be prohibited by the new EO, namely:

  • GL 2A, authorizing certain dealings in debt, equity, and securities of PDV Holding, Inc. (“PDVH“) and CITGO Holding, Inc. (“CITGO“);
  • GL 3F, authorizing dealings in certain bonds of the Government of Venezuela;
  • GL 4C, authorizing certain transactions related to, inter alia, the export and re-export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices to Venezuela;
  • GL 7C, authorizing all transactions and activities with PDVH and CITGO, where they are the only Government of Venezuela entities involved, through January 2021 (subject to renewal), and authorizing those entities to purchase and import petroleum and petroleum products from PdVSA through April 28, 2019;
  • GL 8C, authorizing the maintenance of operations or contracts with PdVSA by Chevron Corporation, Halliburton, Schlumberger Limited, Baker Hughes, and Weatherford International through October 25, 2019;
  • GL 9E, authorizing certain dealings in the debt or equity of PdVSA;
  • GL 10A, authorizing US persons in Venezuela to purchase refined petroleum products from PdVSA for personal, commercial, or humanitarian uses;
  • GL 13C, authorizing certain transactions with Nynas AB through October 25, 2019;
  • GL 15B, authorizing activities by Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc., American Express Company, Western Union Company, and MoneyGram International with certain Venezuelan banks, through March 22, 2020;
  • GL 16B, authorizing transactions related to the maintenance, operation, or closure of accounts of US persons at certain Venezuelan banks, through March 22, 2020;
  • GL 18A, authorizing certain transactions relating to the maintenance or operation of Integracion Administradora de Fondos de Ahorro Previsional, S.A.; and
  • GL 20A, authorizing certain transactions and activities by specific humanitarian entities involving the Central Bank of Venezuela, through January 2021.

Additionally, OFAC has issued a number of new GLs:

  • GL 21, authorizing US financial institutions to debit accounts blocked under the EO or Executive Order 13850 (relating to entities operating in the gold or oil industry) at that institution in payment or reimbursement of normal service charges;
  • GL 22, authorizing the provision of certain goods or services in the US to Venezuela’s mission to the UN;
  • GL 23, authorizing US depository institutions, registered brokers or dealers, and money transmitters to process funds in relation to the operating expenses or other official business of third-country diplomatic or consular missions in Venezuela;
  • GL 24, authorizing all transactions involving the Government of Venezuela incident to the receipt and transmission of telecommunications, and all transactions of common carriers involving the Government of Venezuela incident to the receipt or transmission of mail and packages between the US and Venezuela;
  • GL 25, authorizing the exportation or re-exportation from the US or by US persons to or involving the Government of Venezuela of services, software, hardware, and technology incident to the exchange of communications over the Internet (e.g., through instant messaging);
  • GL 26, authorizing the provision of certain medical services involving the Government of Venezuela;
  • GL 27, authorizing certain transactions in connection with US patent, trademark, copyright, or other intellectual property protection;
  • GL 28, authorizing through September 4, 2019, transactions ordinarily incident and necessary to the wind down of operations, contracts, or other agreements involving the Government of Venezuela in effect before August 5, 2019;
  • GL 29, authorizing all transactions involving the Government of Venezuela ordinarily incident and necessary to certain activities of non-governmental organizations or “NGOs”;
  • GL 30, authorizing all transactions involving the Government of Venezuela ordinarily incident and necessary to the operation or use of ports and airports in Venezuela;
  • GL 31, authorizing US persons to engage in all transactions involving the Interim President of Venezuela, Juan Gerardo Guaidó Márquez, and his administration, including the Venezuelan National Assembly;
  • GL 32, authorizing US persons in Venezuela to engage in transactions involving the Government of Venezuela prohibited by the EO ordinarily incident and necessary to their personal maintenance in Venezuela (e.g., payment of housing expenses, acquisition of personal goods, payment of taxes or fees, and the purchase of permits, licenses, and public utilities); and
  • GL 33, authorizing the payment of fees to the Government of Venezuela related to emergency landings or other air-related medical emergencies.

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

Susannah Cogman
Susannah Cogman
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2580
Daniel Hudson
Daniel Hudson
Partner, London
+44 20 7466 2470
Jonathan Cross
Jonathan Cross
Counsel, New York
+1 917 542 7824
Christopher Milazzo
Christopher Milazzo
Associate, New York
+1 917 542 7807