KHARTOUM, Feb 7 (Reuters) – The U.S. Treasury is preparing to launch a string of civil actions against companies it says have breached sanctions imposed on Sudan for abusing human rights and supporting terrorism, a senior official told Reuters on Thursday.
Agents had built up a “queue” of enforcement actions against violators that will be rolled out in as early as a month’s time, said Adam Szubin, Director of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
OFAC, he added, was stepping up its enforcement of U.S. sanctions against Sudan following a strengthening of Washington’s stance against atrocities in Darfur last year.
“Sudan is at the top of our list, among our most serious concerns. We are investigating a number of significant Sudanese violations,” Szubin told Reuters.
Szubin said he could not name the companies involved but added that U.S. sanctions on Sudan affected both U.S. companies and foreign companies operating from inside the United States.
U.S. President George W. Bush tightened sanctions against Sudan in May, accusing the Khartoum government of obstructing U.N. efforts to bring peace to Sudan’s western Darfur region.
Washington accuses Khartoum of carrying out genocide in Darfur, where almost five years of conflict have claimed an estimated 200,000 lives and driven 2.5 million from their homes. Khartoum rejects the term “genocide” and European governments are reluctant to use it.
In Oc4ober, President Bush signed in regulations that significantly increased the penalties for companies and individuals that violated U.S. sanctions.
Violating companies now face fines of up to $250,000 a breach or a charge of twice the offending transaction — a penalty that in some cases could run into millions, said Szubin.
OFAC was waiting for the publication of official guidelines for the new penalties before pushing through the enforcement actions, he added, “in the next month or two”.
The recent increase in penalties for sanctions violators had strengthened OFAC’s hand, he added.
“What we were seeing in a few cases would be a company that facilitated, let’s say, a handful of petroleum sales for Sudan out of the United States … and then was caught.”
Before the penalty increase, the company would have only had to pay up to $50,000 for each illegal sale — a charge that many organisations could write off.
“We’re now able to say, if your transactions totalled $40 million, and those were violative transactions, you could be facing a maximum penalty of $80 million. And that is no longer something that people will shrug off.”