Since Donald Trump took office, the U.S. Department of the Treasury unit that implements sanctions has emerged as a high-profile foreign policy weapon, advancing U.S. interests by economically isolating Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The agency has blacklisted hundreds of people and companies around the globe and rolled out sanctions programs targeting everyone from foreign meddlers in U.S. elections to buyers of North Korean coal.
But with 2018 three-quarters gone, a crucial element of sanctions enforcement has all but disappeared: the actual enforcement.
Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control is on track to bring the lowest number of cases and penalties in 15 years, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek analysis of agency data. OFAC typically files dozens of cases a year against people and companies that breach sanctions orders, imposing hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.
So far this year, OFAC has filed exactly one case. The haul: $146,000.
Lawyers and former officials agree the change is stark. “You have an administration that loves using the sanctions powers afforded to it to forward foreign policy objectives,” says Dan Tannebaum, a former OFAC official and PwC executive who advises companies on sanctions compliance. “All they’re doing is implementing, and not really enforcing.”