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Details of corporate trade with rogue nations shrouded in secrecy

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information    

Details of corporate trade with rogue nations shrouded in secrecy

  • Facing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Treasury Department released a list of corporations who traded with terrorist states, but so far it has given out few details about the business they conducted.

April 23, 2003 — Full details about U.S. government settlements with major corporations who illegally traded with sanctioned nations in violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act, remain under wraps at the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Only after Public Citizen Litigation Group, a non-profit watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C., brought a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of Corporate Crime Reporter, a weekly Washington, D.C.-based newsletter, did the agency release a list of sanctioned companies and the amount of fines levied against them. Details regarding their infractions are still secret and the litigation is still pending in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Among the companies named on the list are ExxonMobil and Wells Fargo, who traded with the Sudan; Chevron Texaco, which did business with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq; and ESPN and the New York Yankees, who did business with Cuba, according to a report by the newsletter.

OFAC is charged with enforcing trade laws including The Trading with the Enemy Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

When companies are fined by the government for doing illegal business with sanctioned countries such as Saddam’s Iraq, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Sudan, the details of the these agreements are mostly hidden.

“From the beginning, OFAC’s enforcement has been shrouded in secrecy,” said Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, in an April 14 press release.

OFAC settlements were completely secret until Corporate Crime Reporter sued for disclosure in September 2001. Reacting to the suit, the Treasury Department on April 4 began to release selective information about penalties and settlements, but OFAC continues to resist “providing a meaningful description of the conduct that underlies these sanctions,” said Michael Tankersley of the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Documents released since early April by OFAC show that 57 companies and organizations have been fined more than $1.35 million for violating sanctions laws. But there is little information about what sort of trade was made between the company and the foreign government.

As an April 15 report by CBS Market Watch put it, there are “no dates, no details, no way of knowing if the violations were egregious or inadvertent. No way of knowing if the companies sold brass knuckles to the secret police or baby formula to an orphanage.”

The litigation is currently pending in U.S. District Court.

(Mokhiber v. U.S. Department of Treasury; Media Counsel: Michael Tankersley, Public Citizen Litigation Group, Washington, D.C.) GS

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