Harold Koh, a top legal advisor at the State Department, resigned after the Biden administration’s use of Title 42 to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants, calling it “inhumane” and “illegal.”
On September 27, 2021, the U.S. District Court in Manhattan announced that a U.S. citizen pled guilty to conspiring to aid Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) evade economic sanctions through the use of financial technology to hide illegal transactions.
Crypto expert, Virgil Griffith, 38, pled guilty to conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and Executive Order 13466, a law that prohibits U.S. citizens from “exporting any goods, services, or technology to the DPRK without a license from the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”).” Griffith allegedly violated that law by engaging with North Korean officials, advising them on how to evade sanctions.
Virgil Griffith’s Aid to North Korea
Griffith alleged interactions with North Korea dates back to 2018 when he developed and funded cryptocurrency channels. He allegedly was aware that these platforms could financially help North Korea by dodging U.S. sanctions and funding illegal activities such as nuclear weapon development programs.
Then in April 2019, Griffith traveled to North Korea, even though the State Department did not give him permission to do, to give a presentation on blockchain and cryptocurrency at the “Pyongyang Blockchain and Cryptocurrency Conference” (the “DPRK Cryptocurrency Conference”). The presentation focused on how to use these services to evade sanctions and launder money. He mainly focused on “how blockchain technology such as ‘smart contracts’ could be used to benefit the DPRK, including in nuclear weapons negotiations with the United States.” Griffith and his co-conspirator allegedly answered questions and gave advice on the subject matter.
Even after the conference, Griffith continued to engage with North Korea. He aided in a cryptocurrency exchange between North Korea and South Korea – with full knowledge that such actions would violate the sanctions against South Korea. His actions were not authorized under the OFAC requirements.
The authorities caught up with Griffith in November 2019 and arrested him in Singapore.
Griffith’s sentencing hearing is set for January 2022; his charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its New York Field Office, Counterintelligence Division, and thanked the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of Justice’s National Security Division, Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, and the Singapore Police Force for their assistance.”
The use of crypto assets has been one of the main mechanisms by which North Korea has tried to circumvent the United Nations and U.S. sanctions. Griffith’s actions in speaking at a conference and then helping the North Korean government in a crypto currency exchange platform clearly were prohibited without a license, for which Griffith did not apply. The plea and the facts indicate how difficult it is to implement effectively and enforce sanctions.
On September 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of Treasury sanctioned SUEX, a crypto currency exchange owned by a Russian and incorporated in the Czech Republic, which was allegedly processing ransomware payments. The U.S. and G7 governments have identified crypto exchange exchanges as one of the elements of the ecosystem of ransomware operatives, so prosecuting a person who has helped the North Korean government use crypto assets and crypto currency exchanges fits within that strategy.
On September 23, 2021, the U.S. confirmed the return of the poem tablet that is part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The return was confirmed when the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. signed the certificate of transferring ownership as a part of a repatriation ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum. In July 2021, the U.S. announced that it would return 17,000 looted artifacts.
Tablet’s journey to the U.S.
A majority of the artifacts entered the U.S. illegally when an international auction house sold the tablet to craft store Hobby Lobby based in Oklahoma for their Museum of the Bible. Then in 2019, the U.S. authorities obtained a seizure warrant and seized the items.
According to an amended U.S. complaint documents, in 2003, a U.S. antiquities dealer purchased the tablet from a London dealer. The dealer then shipped the tablet to the U.S. without informing authorities of the item. The tablet was unreadable and had dirt, but after a cuneiform cleaned it, it was discovered that the tablet contained a poem, a part of the Gilgamesh epic.
In 2007, the dealer sold the tablet and included a letter that mischaracterized it and labeled it “miscellaneous ancient bronze fragments.” Over the years, the tablet traveled around the world, going from seller to buyer from different countries and parts of the world. Then in 2014, the tablet returned to the U.S. from London, and after that, Hobby Lobby admitted to the tablet’s forfeiture.
“Today, Iraq is reclaiming a piece of its cultural history,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Peter C. Fitzhugh of HSI New York. “We are honored to have played a role in the repatriation of this rare tablet that was pillaged from Iraq, only to be sold without a valid provenance and any regard for his cultural value. HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquity Investigations program will continue to work tirelessly to interrupt the criminal activities of those who loot antiquities and seek to profit off the theft of a country’s rich history.”
The backstory of the Artifact
The Gilgamesh epic poem is about the main character or a protagonist that details his dream to his mother; his mother responds with an interpretation of that dream, which is that he is to expect the arrival of a new friend, she said to her son “You will see him and your heart will laugh.” “The names of the hero, Gilgamesh, and the character who becomes his friend, Enkidu, are replaced in the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet with the names of deities Sin and Ea,” according to the Department of Justice press release.
Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis for the Eastern District of New York said that “This office is proud to have played a central role in making this rare and ancient cuneiform tablet available for repatriation to its country of origin and the people of Iraq,” and continued to say that the U.S. will continue to use the law to go after illegal activity in cultural treasure so that it “may be restored to their rightful place in a country’s history.”
In late August 2021, the Gambian government said that any migrants wanting to return home to The Gambia would not be allowed to enter. The Banjul administration said it would not allow any flights carrying Gambian migrants coming from the EU.
This announcement came as Germany decided to expel several Gambian migrants in early September. And the DW media reports that “more than 2,000 Gambian migrants who have exhausted their asylum appeals in Germany are awaiting repatriation.” The country is not accepting its citizens back to the Gambia due to security concerns and difficulties in reintegration. Other issues cited related to the pandemic and the possibility that Gambian migrants could contribute to a rise in COVID-19 cases, thereby putting additional strain on public health facilities in the country.
This move could also be due to the upcoming election in the Gambia that is set for December 2021, which could be a way to boost electoral support in the polls. The forthcoming election will be the first one after oppressive dictator Yahya Jammeh ruled for nearly 22 years till he lost an election in 2017 to Adama Barrow.
The Gambian foreign ministry spokesman, Saikou Ceesay, explained that allowing migrants to return to the Gambia would cause a “social upheaval” he also added that Gambia is trying to perverse and “consolidate the peace, stability and democracy,” and presumably, allowing Gambian nations to reentry would hinder the country’s development.
Gambia’s decision could also be tied to an underlying political motive tied to the election, according to a European Union Diplomat.
The Gambia and the EU
The topic of immigration between The Gambia and the EU has long been sore spot for both parties. For example, in 2018, the two entities signed an agreement called the “Good Practices document on identification and return procedures.” Allegedly, Gambia has not fully upheld its end of the agreement.
The European Council is also looking into a proposal that would make it harder for Gambians to obtain an EU visa due to the country’s “failure to cooperate on readmission.”
A Ugandan expert in international law, Gawaya Tegulle, said that each country has a duty and obligation to accept its nationals back and The Gambia’s decision is unlawful and breaks international law. “Therefore, the action per se by the government of the Gambia has no place under international law,” Tegulle said to DW news, and further stated that “It is illegal before we start even to list the demerits of the circumstances surrounding the decision.” On the other hand, Tegulle disagrees with Germany’s decision to expel Gambians and says that both nations made the wrong decision.
Analysis and Implications
EU’s decision to expel Gambian migrants is not new. In 2019, migrant Gambians faced the same dilemma of having to leave their home in hopes of finding a safer home just to get deported to their country.
One issue is the proof required to establish that a migrant is a national of a country.
No human, especially a migrant fleeing their country in seeking better opportunities, should be left in limbo, not knowing where their permeant address lies. A problem is that the flood of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, the Northern Triangle, Myanmar, and many other countries is unsustainable. The tide of refugees imposes significant pressure on the existing international refugee law.
The September Issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of this topic.
On August 20, 2021, the United Kingdom imposed sanctions on seven Russian agents for their involvement in poisoning Alexei Navalny, a Russian political oppositionist and anti-corruption activist. These sanctions come on the anniversary of Navalny’s poisoning on August 20, 2020. He was poisoned with Novichok, a nerve agent, that left him hospitalized and in critical condition.
In a joint statement with the U.S., the U.K. imposed sanctions against 7 Russian nationals alleged to have poisoned Navalny with a nerve agent. “The sanctioned individuals are directly responsible for planning or carrying out the attack on Mr. Navalny in Tomsk on [August 20, 2021],” the U.K. press release stated.
The U.K. sanctions include names of members of the FSB Security Service that were implicitly or explicitly involved in the posing. The names include Alexey Alexandrov, Vladimir Bogdanov Ivan Osipov, Kirill Vasilyev, Stanislav Makshakov and Alexei Sedov, and Vladimir Panyaev.
The sanctions include an asset freeze and travel bans against the agents and are included in the UK Autonomous Chemical Weapons sanctions regime. The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that “through our chemical weapons sanctions regime and at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, we are sending a clear message that any use of chemical weapons by the Russian state violates international law, and a transparent criminal investigation must be held.”
The recent sanctions are not the first time the UK imposed sanctions against Russia. In October 2020, UK slapped sanctions against six personnel and an entity for their alleged involvement in masterminding the poison operation against Navalny.
The U.S. Sanctions
The U.S. also imposed sanctions on two separate individuals and four Russian entities allegedly involved in the assassination plan against Navalny.
The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a press statement that stated that “OFAC is designating nine Russian individuals and two Russian entities involved in Navalny’s poisoning or Russia’s chemical weapons program.” The sanctions make the third time the Treasury department issues sanctions in response to the Novichok poisoning or Russia’s chemical program.
The U.S. Department of State also sanctioned two entities, specifically the Russian Ministry of Defense scientific laboratories, involved in producing chemical weapons for Russia. The sanctions are consistent per the U.S. Chemical and Biological Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control Director Andrea Gacki stated in a press statement that the U.S. stands with the U.K. allies to “again condemn the Kremlin’s use of a chemical weapon to target one of Russia’s most prominent opposition leaders.” Gacki continued and said that the Navalny assentation attempt is a “shocking violation of international norms against the use of chemical weapons and was part of an ongoing campaign to silence voices of dissent in Russia.”
Russia denies their U.S. and U.K. claims and said that the sanctions are simply a smear campaign.
With respect to Global Magnitsky sanctions, the U.S., U.K., European Union, and other countries, such as Canada and Australia, are coordinating their sanctions.
The G-7 Communique from the London meeting referred to the G7 joint statement of January 26 on the arrest, sentencing and detention on politically-motivated charges of Alexey Navalny.
On August 10, 2021, BitMEX, a cryptocurrency exchange platform, agreed to pay $100 million for not abiding by U.S. laws while permitting U.S. residents to use the platform and not implementing an anti-money laundering program.
Last year, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) sued BitMEX and named the three founders as defendants in the case. The three founders, Arthur Hayes, Benjamin Delo, and Samuel Reed, were separately charged for a count of conspiracy and for a violation of the Banking Secrecy Act. The settlement on Tuesday pertained to only the case against BitMEX and not the separate charges against the three founders.
From approximately November 2014 through October 1, 2020, BitMEX, at the time, operated as a joint enterprise and made available cryptocurrency on its platform that was accessible to consumers in the U.S. and globally, and the founders were aware of this fact. The CFTC press statement stated that “customers in the U.S. placed orders directly through BitMEX’s user interfaces, and that BitMEX acted as counterparty to certain transactions. Thus, the order finds that BitMEX violated the CEA by operating a facility to trade or process swaps without being approved as a Designated Contract Market (DCM) or a Swap Execution Facility (SEF).”
BitMEX also violated the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA) as they were technically considered as Futures Commission Merchant but did not hold a CFTC registration and additional violation includes “accepting bitcoin to margin digital asset derivative transactions and acting as counterparty to leveraged retail commodity transactions,” the CFTC press statement stated. BitMEX also violated CFTC regulations as they did not establish a Customer Information Program or CIP, Know-Your-Customer (KYC), and an effective anti-money laundering program. And between 2014 and 2020, BitMEX only asked users for emails and no other means of identification.
A FinCEN press release stated that BitMEX’s illegal actions placed financial institutions in vulnerable positions that expose them to money launderers, terrorist financiers, ransomware attacks, and potentially the threats of the darknet marketplace. The FinCEN press release also stated that BitMEX engaged in darknet markets or risky money service organizations worth more than $200 million. “BitMEX also conducted transactions involving high-risk jurisdictions and alleged fraud schemes. BitMEX failed to file a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) on at least 588 specific suspicious transactions,” the press release continued.
“This case reinforces the expectation that the digital assets industry, as it continues to touch a broader pool of market participants, takes seriously its responsibilities in the regulated financial industry and its duties to develop and adhere to a culture of compliance,” said Acting Chairman Rostin Behnam in the CFTC press statement.
BitMEX remained neutral on the allegations and said that it would not allow U.S. residents to use or access the trading platform, according to the CFTC press statement.
Per the consent order requirements, BitMEX has established an anti-money laundering program and implemented a system to verify its users.
A BitMEX representative remains optimistic, and as an organization, they hope to stay committed to being a regulated exchange and are “looking to set the benchmarks in this new era for crypto,” according to the Wall Street Journal reporting.
The current issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive article on this case.
If you or your company is looking to promote your business on the IELRBlog, we now accept advertisement requests!
Reasons to advertise on the IELRBlog.com:
- In the last seven days, we have had over 2,780 visitors, and in the previous month, we had 13,500 visitors!
- The blog is continually updated with different articles, which attracts a broad audience
- Our website’s content on international enforcement law attracts viewers from across the globe!
- The cost and prices are flexible and will vary
- Contact us at (202)-293-2679 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a price estimate
On August 3, 2021, Iraq announced that the U.S. would return more than 17,000 looted artifacts, some of which were stolen during the 2003 invasion.
Artifacts Seized from DC- Museum and Cornell University
Thousands of artifacts went missing after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014 to 2017, allegedly destroyed, stole and sold thousands of Iraqi artifacts. The U.S. returned the artifacts primarily held in DC-based Museum of the Bible and Cornell University.
According to the Washington Post, the Museum of the Bible held 12,000 of the stolen artifacts. An evangelical Christian family, who also owns craft store giant Hobby Lobby, founded and funds the Museum. displayed in the Museum were supposed to provide background into the Old Testament. Among the other artifacts returned include cuneiform tablets, clay seal impressions or bullae, and ancient cylinder seals—some of which were the basis of the 2011 government fine against Hobby Lobby.
In 2015, the Justice Department investigated and fined Hobby Lobby for looting artifacts from the Middle East for their Museum—some of the artifacts returned recently from that looting instance. As a part of the lawsuit agreement, the supply chain store agreed to implement stricter acquisition procedures. Also, after a voluntary review of their artifacts, it identified thousands of suspect artifacts.
Hobby Lobby’s president claims that he was unaware that the artifacts were stolen when he purchased the artifacts for the Museum. The current museum director said that the pieces were bought in lots with thousands of pieces that said that paperwork was “vague that the museum did not know what it was getting,” according to a Washington Post article.
The more than 5,000 artifacts returned were found in Cornell University. The collection has artifacts from the Sumerian city of Garsana, which archeologist believe came from the south of Iraq. Allegedly, Cornell received the artifacts as a donation from an American collector. In 2013, the Justice Department went after Cornell to pressure the university to return the artifacts allegedly stolen in the 1990s from Iraq. Cornell has used the artifacts as basis for the study for the “cultural benefits of the Republic of Iraq.”
In an optimistic press statement, the Iraqi foreign minister stated that the Iraqi government would “spare no effort to recover the rest of our cultural heritage throughout the world.”
U.S.’ Efforts to Combat Illicit Antiquities Trade
Earlier this year, the U.S. passed revision to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA 2020) that would apply the same due diligent requirements used for financial institutions antiquities dealers. The amendments to the law amend the definition of financial institutions in the AMLA, under Section 6110(a), to include art and antiquities traders, thereby holding them to the same reporting standards as financial institutions under the BSA. Much like the drug or arms trade, art and antiquities, too, can be a source of money laundering. This type of illicit trade can is linked to international terrorism, persecution of cultural groups, and criminal networks.
The August IELR will have an in-depth discussion of this topic.
On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, A rhino kingpin and game hunter were arrested while illegally transporting rhino horns valued over R2.6-million. The duo was charged with illegally possessing and selling horns and was granted bail later that week.
The two suspects are alleged rhino horn kingpin Johannes Groenewald, 53, and professional big game hunter Schalk Steyn,48. The duo was arrested in the process of illegally transporting 19 rhino horns in two separate vehicles. The arrest was made in Mpumalanga, which is a province in eastern South Africa. They were charged for possessing and selling the rhino horns.
The arrest was made part of a multidisciplinary operation controlled by the Hawks’ wildlife trafficking counter-intelligence unit.
The suspects’ initial court appearance a day after their arrest, July 22. Their crime is categorized as a Schedule 5 offense, which includes violent crimes such as treasons, murder, and corrupt involving monetary amounts “R500 000 for an individual and R100 000 if it is alleged that the offense was committed by a person, group of persons or syndicate acting in common purpose or conspiracy,” according to Mail & Guardian, Africa-based newspaper. A Schedule 5 offense carries with it a minimum of 15 years imprisonment.
The duo was released on bail under certain conditions that they do not communicate with any witnesses. Steyn had already given up his passport as part of a bail condition in a separate case.
Delay in Prosecution
The rhino-horn kingpin has a history of evading jail time and staying above the law. Previously, he was arrested, and nine other co-conspirators after an excavation investigation revealed that he had rhino carcasses. The investigation also revealed that the suspects removed the horns before they buried the animals.
Though the defendants were charged with illegal hunting, money laundering, racketeering, organized crime of rhino horns, they never had their day in court as the trial date was postponed.
According to the Daily Maverick, one reason for the delay in prosecution was that the court was awaiting “a Constitutional Court ruling that finally confirmed the lifting of South Africa’s moratorium on domestic trade in rhino horn. The outcome was that the State dropped about 60 charges against the accused, and an amended charge sheet was subsequently served on the group.”
In 2018, the trial date was postponed to 2021, and the alleged suspects still have not had their day in court.
In 2014, the U.S. Justice Department attempted to extradite the defendants to face charges for “conspiracy to sell illegal rhino hunts in South Africa in bid to defraud US hunters,” however a Limpopo court in 2017 blocked their extradition.
The arrests received some applaud from the World Wide Fund for Wildlife of South Africa, with the senior manager saying that “We often talk of the need to shift law enforcement focus from the poachers on the ground to the wildlife trafficking syndicate members.”
The August 2021 IELR issue will have an in-depth discussion on this matter.
On July 23, 2021, a Nigerian Federal High Court sentenced 10 Pirates for their involvement in hijacking a Chinese Vessel merchant vessel FV HAILUFENG II in 2020. The pirates each received a 12-year prison sentence and a N250,000.00 fine on each count.
The FV HAILUFENG II Hijacking
In May 2020, ten pirates Frank Abaka, Jude Ebaragha, Shina Alolo, Joshua Iwiki, David Akinseye, Ahmed Toyin, Shobajo Saheed, Adekole Philip, Matthew Masi, and Bright Agbedeyi, allegedly hijacked a Chinese vessel and kidnapped the 18 crew members. The ship was in international waters off the coast of Cote D’lvoire.
States in the Gulf of Guinea participated in the rescue mission. They used resources set under the Yaoundé Architecture for Maritime Security. “In a rare victory, the Nigerian Navy was able to interdict the Hailufeng 11 at a position about 140 nautical miles south of Lagos, arriving about two days after the hijacking,” The Maritime Executive reported. The navy rescued the crew members and arrested the pirates.
The Federal high court Justice Ayokunle Faji said the pirates’ actions were “an embarrassment to the nation that has impacted the economy negatively.”
Hijacking incidents are common in the Gulf of Guinea, which covers several West African Countries. That region has been termed “pirate alley” for the frequent attacks. The International Maritime Bureau reported that last year there were about 22 incidents that accounted for 130 seafarers’ kidnappings.
Nigerian lead prosecutor Labaran Magaji said that the conviction is intended to send a strong message Nigeria does not tolerate maritime crimes and that Nigerian institutions are prepared to combat criminal activities.
The 2019 Anti-Piracy Law
The July 23 conviction is the first time pirates have been prosecuted under the Suppression of Piracy, and Other Maritime Offences (SPOMO) Act that President Muhammadu Buhari passed in 2019. Previously, three private security company employees were fined under this law after their alleged involvement in aiding a ransom crime. The legislation clarified jurisdictional issues related to armed robbery committed at sea and authorizes exclusive jurisdiction to hear matters related to armed robbery and other illegal acts committed at sea in the Federal High Court. Furthermore, the act prohibits hijacking, vandalism, or destruction of the ship, and the unlawful interference of ship operation, navigation, and installation on the facility.
The current (i.e., August) issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of this case.