European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has recently announced that the EU is preparing a 10th package of sanctions on Russia and is planning to have it in place by 24 February 2023 – the 1 year anniversary of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The new package is said to be focusing on technology that may be used by the military of Russia and in cutting sanctions circumvention. It may further include financial sanctions against four Russian banks. Overall, the EU has progressively imposed sanctions against Russia since 2014, in light of the annexation of Crimea and the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements.
EU sanctions do not apply extraterritorially. The Sanctions Regulation applies, inter alia, to any person inside or outside the territory of the Union who is a national of a Member State, and to any legal person, entity or body, inside or outside the territory of the Union, which is incorporated or constituted under the law of a Member State.
The measures forming part of the various sanctions packages as found and developed under the two main EU regulations, namely Council Regulation (EU) No 833/2014 (a.k.a. economic or sectoral sanctions) and Council Regulation (EU) No 269/2014 (a.k.a. individual or targeted sanctions) are complex and multi-layered, and understanding their full scope and compliance is becoming an increasingly challenging exercise for the stakeholders involved.
The EU economic sanctions regime imposes prohibitions and limitations via the targeting of specific sectors of the Russian economy as a whole including inter alia prohibitions on new investments in the energy sector; prohibitions on certain operations in the aviation sector; prohibitions on imports of iron and steel; prohibitions on the financing of the Russian government and Central Bank as well as banning all those transactions related to the management of the Central Bank’s reserves and assets; prohibitions on a range of financial interactions, financial rating services and transactions with Russia; prohibitions on accepting deposits; prohibitions on trust and a number of business-related services.
The EU individual sanctions regime imposes the freezing of assets belonging to, owned, held, or controlled by listed persons or entities: all their assets in the EU are frozen and EU persons and entities cannot make any funds available to those listed. Both Regulations have broad anti-circumvention provisions, pursuant to which it is prohibited to participate, knowingly and intentionally, in activities the object or effect of which is to circumvent prohibitions as found under the Regulations. Additionally, any person who facilitates the circumvention of sanctions by others, may now be included in the sanctions list himself – and this includes EU natural and legal persons.
The year ahead
It seems unlikely that developments in sanctions policy and regulations will be slowing down in 2023. On the contrary, we expect to see more packages but also enforcement actions as regulators and prosecutors come under increasing pressure to show more “teeth” rather than simply introducing and drafting new policies. The controversial idea of ceasing and not only freezing assets has also been increasingly under discussion.
On 28 November 2022, the European Council unanimously decided to add violations of EU sanctions to the list of “EU crimes”. On 2 December 2022, the European Commission introduced a proposal for an EU Directive which sets out minimum rules concerning the definition of criminal offences and penalties in respect of violating EU sanctions. The willingness to introduce such a Directive is reflective of the EU’s objective for stronger harmonization in the enforcement of sanctions by Member States and for dissuading circumvention at the EU level. Of course, for the Directive to take effect, Member States will have to incorporate it via the passing of national legislation. The Commission has also recently launched an EU whistle-blower tool enabling the anonymous reporting of possible sanctions violations, including circumvention.
Additionally, a Directive on asset recovery and confiscation has been proposed with the aim to tackle “the serious threat posed by organised crime” and provide the means to competent authorities to “effectively trace and identify, freeze, confiscate and manage the instrumentalities and proceeds of crime and property that stems from criminal activities.” Should such proposal solidify further, EU member states would be required to make substantial changes to their national laws and confiscation regimes for instance, the confiscation of unexplained wealth – enabling judicial authorities to confiscate property when they are convinced it derives from criminal activities, even if it cannot be linked to a specific crime. Such confiscation measures will inevitably be raising inter alia various property and human rights considerations, which will eventually have to be determined by the member state courts.
At the moment, while EU regulations set out the prohibitions and licensing grounds with respect to sanctions, it is implementing legislation at each Member state level which imposes the applicable penalties. Cyprus currently adopts The Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions or Decisions (Sanctions) and the European Union Council’s Decisions and Regulations (Restrictive Measures) Law (Law 58(I)/2016) which renders violation of any provisions of such sanctions/restrictive measures a criminal offence subject to imprisonment and/or penalties.
The above information and challenges make it even more important that businesses adopt their own robust and up-to-date sanctions compliance measures. It is the individual responsibility of each person and organisation to carefully examine risks potentially arising under the EU sanctions regime and verify whether any of the listed individuals or entities are part of their business relationships or whether their activities violate sanctions.
The contents do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. It is recommended to seek independent legal advice when considering participating in activities or transactions which may give rise to sanctions-related matters. Engaging in thoughtful due diligence at the outset of any investment/transaction will help you to prevent pitfalls further down the line.