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Americans abroad: Compliance with the US sanctions law facilitation principle

Brendan LeMoult ( is a Vice President at JT International in Geneva, Switzerland, working on international compliance and legal issues.

On November 5, 2018, the United States fully reimposed sanctions on Iran that had been lifted or waived under the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. This action by the US, together with changes to the Specially Designated Nationals List and the sanctioning of hundreds of additional persons, entities, aircraft, and vessels reminds us of the need to keep up with current laws and regulations regarding US sanctions. This is especially important with the rapidly moving foreign policy changes by the US government. Still, despite these fluid times, some principles in US sanctions law remain. One of these principles is that under almost all sanctions regimes, US persons (e.g., US citizens, permanent US residents, any person in the US, or entities organized under the laws of the US)[1] are prohibited from “facilitating” prohibited transactions, no matter where they are located.

This holds true regardless of whether a US person’s employer is subject to US law. Indeed, when a US person’s employer is not subject to US law, a situation arises where it may become illegal for the US person to do what is perfectly legal for their non-US employer to do. It is no defense to US persons that they are located outside the US or that their employer is not subject to US law. It always remains unlawful for US persons to provide support to or assist foreign persons in transactions that are prohibited by US sanctions law.

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