On November 27, 2019, President Trump signed two bills into law that increase US sanctions and export control restrictions as they relate to China. The bills, approved in response to recent political protests in Hong Kong, had near unanimous support from the US Congress. President Trump previously expressed concerns about the legislation while in the midst of negotiating a trade deal with China but ultimately signed both bills in the hopes that the “Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all.”
On October 10, 2019, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta, and Salim Essa of South Africa (“the Guptas”) as Specially Designated Nationals (“SDNs”). The Guptas and their business associate, Essa, were designated in connection with their involvement in corruption under Executive Order 13818 (“EO 13818”), which implements and expands upon the sanctions authorities set out in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The designation of the Guptas and Essa as SDNs represents one of the most high-profile applications of the corruption-related sanctions provision of EO 13818 to date.
OFAC stated that the Guptas and Essa were members of a significant corruption network that leveraged overpayments on government contracts, bribery, and other corrupt acts to influence actions taken by the government of South Africa, in particular by facilitating their capture of government contracts and misappropriation of state assets. As a result of their designation as SDNs, all four individuals’ property and the property of any entities that are owned 50 percent or more by them, which are in the United States or in the possession or control of a US person, are now blocked.
On September 4, 2019, the US Department of State published draft Guidance for the Export of Hardware, Software and Technology with Surveillance Capabilities and/or parts/know-how (the “Guidance”) to provide insight to exporters of items with surveillance capacities on human rights concerns to consider prior to export of such items. The State Department is soliciting feedback on the Guidance until October 4, 2019 for its consideration for the final version of the Guidance to be published at a later date (yet to be specified).
On August 2, 2019, the US State Department announced targeted sanctions against Russia related to the March 2018 use of a “novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom. This was the second round of sanctions required under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (the “CBW Act”) following the State Department’s determination on November 6, 2018 that Russia had failed to provide reliable assurances that it would not engage in future chemical weapons attacks. The US Government issued the first round of CBW Act sanctions on August 27, 2018. See our blog post on the first round of CBW Act sanctions here.