Sanctions Round-Up: September 2020
On 21st September, the Council of the European Union imposed sanctions on two individuals on the grounds of human rights abuses. The first, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, is a commander of the al-Saiqa Brigade in Benghazi and is accused of “directly or indirectly” engaging in “killings and executions”, including “a mass execution of 10 prisoners” in January 2018. The other is Moussa Diab, who has been listed for his alleged role in the mistreatment of migrants and refugees being held near Bani Walid.
In the same action, the council also targeted three entities which it accuses of violating the UN arms embargo on Libya. These were: Sigma Airlines, a commercial cargo company based in Kazakhstan; Avrasya Shipping, a Turkish maritime logistics company; and Med Wave Shipping, a maritime logistics company based in Jordan and Lebanon. Avrasya Shipping operates the Cirkin vessel and Med Wave Shipping operates the Bana vessel, both of which have been accused of transporting military material to Libya.
On the same day, the United Kingdom’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) added the targets to its Libyan sanctions regime.
Central African Republic
In its latest manoeuvre targeting the Russian financier Yevgeny Prigozhin, the United States’ Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) placed sanctions on two entities and three individuals connected to the businessman on 23rd September. This follows similar action taken by OFAC in July 2020, which targeted Prigozhin’s mining interests in Sudan. The individuals – Dmitry Sergeevich Sytii, Yevgeniy Khodotov and Alexander Yuryevich Kuzin – are all Russian nationals based in the CAR. Lobaye Invest is similarly based in the CAR; however, M Finans is based in Russia.
The US accuses Prigozhin of financing the Internet Research Agency (IRA), as well as PMC Wagner, the Russian private military company currently operating in Libya and Mozambique. It details that he “owns or controls” both M Finans and Lobaye Invest. According to the US Treasury, both companies have links with PMC Wagner’s operations in the CAR. It has alleged that it is through these companies that the Russian “Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense” coordinate Russian interests in the country. The individuals have also been targeted in this action as Sytii is the founder of Lobaye Invest and a former employee of the IRA, while Khodotov is a director of the same firm and Kuzin is said to be an employee of Prigozhin’s.
Sudan and South Sudan
On 15th September, OFAC designated Nabah Ltd, a UK-based entity linked to Sudanese businessman Ashraf al-Cardinal. This marks the latest effort by the US Treasury to clamp down on al-Cardinal’s financial network. He is accused by OFAC of being part of “a sanctions evasion scheme”, which allowed “senior South Sudanese” officials to escape US sanctions through use of his companies’ bank accounts. While the US Treasury did not allege that Nabah Ltd was the specific entity used, its connection to al-Cardinal has led to it being targeted by US sanctions.
Al-Cardinal was previously designated under the Global Magnitsky regime in November 2019. Nabah Ltd is now the sixth company owned or controlled by him to be sanctioned by the US. He has been named by NGOs as “a major enabler of corruption and violence” for the government of South Sudan.
Separately, on 17th September, OFAC reached a USD 894,111 settlement with an American firm named Comtech and one of its subsidiaries. The US Treasury had opened an investigation into Comtech regarding violations of its sanctions regulations relating to Sudan between 2014 and 2015.
The assets of nine individuals, accused of being linked to al-Shabaab, have been frozen by the Kenyan government. Fred Matiang’i – Kenya’s interior cabinet secretary – announced the move on 2nd September, naming the targeted individuals as: Halima Adan Ali, Waleed Ahmed Zein, Sheikh Guyo Gorsa Boru, Mohammed Abdi Ali (Abu Fidaa), Nuseiba Mohammed Haji, Abdimajit Adan Hassan, Mohammed Ali Abdi, Muktar Ibrahim Ali, and Mire Abdullahi Elmi. The exact details of the activities they allegedly financed have not been disclosed; however, two of these individuals – Halima Adan Ali and Waleed Ahmed Zein – have already been sanctioned by the US State Department for being members of a financial network in support of the Islamic State.
Later in the month, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) amended the entries of 10 individuals and one entity. Of the individuals included in the 10th September notice, seven are Tunisian nationals. They are: Moussa Ben Omar Ben Ali Essaadi; Khalil Ben Ahmed Ben Mohamed Jarraya; Said Ben Abdelhakim Ben Omar al-Cherif; Imed Ben Mekki Zarkaoui; Kamal Ben Maoeldi Ben Hassan al-Hamraoui; Hamadi Ben Abdul Aziz Ben Ali Bouyehia; and Noureddine Ben Ali Ben Belkassem al-Drissi. All remain subject to an asset freeze. The EU and OFSI followed suit by respectively amending their listings on 17th and 18th September.
International Criminal Court
On 2nd September, the US added two African individuals to its SDN List. These designations of Fatou Bensouda from The Gambia and Phakiso Mochochoko from Lesotho are pursuant to Executive Order 13928, signed by President Donald Trump in June 2020. This allowed the US Treasury and State Department to target individuals at the International Criminal Court (ICC) who investigate US personnel and those of certain US allies.
In a statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described ICC investigations into American personnel as “unjust and illegitimate”. His department added visa restrictions to the targets, in addition to OFAC’s financial sanctions. Bensouda is the ICC Prosecutor and the former justice minister of The Gambia, while Mochochoko is the head of the ICC’s Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division. In response to the Trump administration’s action, the court condemned the US as having attempted to “interfere with the [its] judicial and prosecutorial independence”.
On 10th September, the US State Department designated Andrew Wonpolo – former director of passport and visas at the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – for actions between 2018 and 2019 that it alleged involved “passport fraud that undermined the rule of law” in the country. Days after the listing, Liberian government prosecutors issued a writ for Wonplo’s arrest. In response, he released an audio recording claiming that the passports issued were done so with the approval of “some senior officials” in the government of President George Weah. Wonplo was initially arrested in August 2019 but was later released. His spouse – Dennice Wonplo – and their children, have also been designated.
On 15th September, OFAC sanctioned Zeineb Jammeh, the Moroccan-born former first lady of The Gambia. The wife of former president Yahya Jammeh – himself already under US sanctions – is accused of “aiding and abetting” her husband’s “economic crimes” in the country. OFAC believes that Mrs Jammeh is “in charge” of the former president’s international assets, and, therefore, she has been designated in order to clamp down on his financial network. Mrs Jammeh had already been designated by the US State Department in December 2018.
Ahead of elections due to take place in Edo and Ondo State, the US State Department imposed additional visa restrictions on individuals it has accused of operating “with impunity” in the wake of the Kogi and Bayelsa State elections of 2019. The restrictions were brought in on 14th September but the individuals concerned have not yet been named. This follows a similar action from July 2019 against individuals who the US says “undermined the February and March 2019 elections”.
According to media reports, OFAC has cleared Zimbabwe’s CBZ Holdings from having to pay a USD 385m penalty, which was imposed on the company for allegedly processing transactions on behalf of a sanctioned entity. The US Treasury had previously alleged that, between 2009 and 2014, CBZ Holdings processed transactions on behalf of ZB Bank, which was under US sanctions at the time. The latter was under sanction from 2008 to 2016.
On 9th September, OFSI amended the listing for Colonel Tomas Djassi, former commander of the national guard in Guinea-Bissau. He was initially listed by the EU and UK in 2012, on the grounds that he was a member of the military command that claimed responsibility for the coup in April of that year. Djassi was removed from his position in 2015. He remains subject to an asset freeze.
Despite some progress being made in negotiations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) did not remove its sanctions on Mali during the month of September. At a meeting on 15th September with the National Committee for the Salvation of the People of Mali (CNSP) – Mali’s ruling junta – ECOWAS reiterated that sanctions on the suspended member will be lifted immediately when the transitional president and prime minister were effectively designated.
Later, following the appointment of former defence minister Bah Ndaw to the post of interim president and that of civilian Moctar Ouane to the post of transitional prime minister, the CNSP asked for the sanctions to be lifted. However, ECOWAS refused to do so, citing the position of junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita as transitional vice president.
On 20th September, Buzzfeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published leaked documents from the US Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN). This tranche of leaked financial intelligence, known as the “FinCEN Files”, revealed the scale of transactions being flagged on suspicions of money laundering and sanctions evasion by the financial institutions processing them.
Some of these institutions have been based in Africa and some of the transactions have involved African nationals. Countries affected include Liberia, Benin, Ghana, Angola, Kenya and South Africa, amongst others. It should be stressed that transactions being flagged as suspicious are not of themselves evidence of wrongdoing.