The activity surrounding the Ukraine crisis during the past several months has shown that sanctions can be imposed rapidly in response to changes in the political climate. However, that flurry of sanctions activity has slowed during the past month, providing a good opportunity to assess how your business landscape has changed because of the sanctions—and what you can do to adapt to those changes.

1. Be Aware of Sanctions Relevant for Your Business

The Ukraine sanctions have had a noticeable impact in many sectors of the Finnish market, however, it is good to remember that other sanctions programmes also exist and can have a real-life impact. The penalties for violating any of sanction can be significant, and there are many more sanctions programmes in force than just those concerning Ukraine. The EU and the US each have approximately 30 separate sanctions programmes in force at the present time.

You may be caught by surprise of the range of business transactions that are restricted or forbidden by sanctions under various circumstances. Sanctions touch on a wide variety of activity. Although prohibitions against doing business with specific individuals or companies have been well-publicised during the Ukraine escalation, other restrictions on certain types of business activity (such as providing services or certain goods even if the counterparty is not sanctioned), tend to receive less attention in the media.

Older sanctions programmes, such as those concerning Iran and activities linked to terrorist organisations in various countries around the world, have a broad reaching effect but receive little if any press attention. Importantly, enforcement actions by EU Member States and the US authorities include an investigation of whether the violator knew or should have known that their conduct violated sanctions laws.

Also, it is good to keep in mind, that other countries (such as Canada, Australia and Switzerland) have also imposed their own sanctions. Although EU and US sanctions may be for many Finnish enterprises the most likely applicable sanctions programmes, it is good to be aware that other authorities can and do impose sanctions of their own.

2. Determine if Planned Business is Affected by Sanctions

If you believe that a business transaction that you have planned could be affected by sanctions, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself against liability—both in case of a sanctions-triggered dispute with your counterparty, as well should an official investigation occur.

The US authorities have a history of threatening civil or even criminal prosecution against foreign companies when those companies are believed to have caused US persons to violate US sanctions laws. Knowing as much as possible about the connections of personnel and companies involved in your transactions will improve your ability to determine whether your business plans might need to comply with EU or US sanctions, or perhaps on some occasions with both.

3. Prepare Your Strategy to Prevent Violations and Get the Deal Done

Prepare a plan of action to address the risks and to protect yourself against liability. Documenting your efforts to perform an appropriate due diligence sanctions check may prove useful in the future should the need arise to demonstrate that you performed the level of due diligence which the circumstances called for, e.g. in case of an official investigation. It may also be helpful to prepare internal training and education programmes to ensure that your employees are able to identify and address possible sanctions issues. Depending upon the nature of particular situations, it may be beneficial to seek an official clarification or approval of business activities from the authorities. It is also possible in some cases to apply to the authorities for a special license to conduct business which may otherwise be prevented by sanctions restrictions. You may also wish to review your transaction agreements to ensure that they contain language which offers you the maximum protection in the event that the restrictions imposed by existing sanctions, or new sanctions which could be imposed in the future, restrict or prevent the performance of those transactions.

Kristina Rutsky