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Aspida Insights

The Intricacies of Sanctions: A Legal Perspective

Michael Calleja | Senior Compliance Services Executive | Malta


Sanctions serve as a pivotal instrument in the international legal arsenal, utilized by nations and international coalitions to enforce legal standards, safeguard national interests, and promote global security. These measures, ranging from economic embargoes to travel restrictions, aim to compel compliance with international norms, deter unlawful behavior, and address threats to peace and security.

Roles and Functions

At their core, sanctions are not merely punitive; they are strategic tools designed to influence behavior, support diplomatic efforts, and ensure stability. They can target states, entities, or individuals, focusing on those involved in activities that contravene international law, such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and human rights abuses.

Types of Sanctions

Sanctions around the world can be broadly categorized into several types: economic sanctions, which restrict trade and investment with certain countries, entities, or individuals; financial sanctions, including asset freezes and banking restrictions; trade sanctions, limiting the import or export of goods and services; military sanctions, prohibiting the sale of arms and related materials; and diplomatic sanctions, involving the withdrawal or suspension of diplomatic ties.

These measures are employed by countries or international bodies like the United Nations and the European Union to achieve foreign policy objectives, including promoting human rights, democracy, and global security.

Regulatory Frameworks

The complexity of sanctions regimes necessitates a robust legal framework to ensure effective implementation. Internationally, sanctions are often mandated by the United Nations, while regionally, entities like the European Union play a significant role in shaping sanctions policies.

Nationally, countries adopt these frameworks into their legal systems, as seen in Malta’s incorporation of EU and UN sanctions into its national law.

Direct applicability

Under Maltese law, UN, EU, and national sanctions have direct applicability, obligating all individuals and entities within Malta to comply, regardless of their nationality, status, or the nature of their presence in Malta. This comprehensive application underscores the necessity for all operating within Malta, especially those conducting relevant financial or business activities, to have robust internal controls and procedures to ensure compliance.

The law mandates regular screening against applicable sanctions lists and immediate reporting of any sanctions’ breaches to the SMB, highlighting the serious legal implications, including significant fines and imprisonment, for non-compliance.

The Role of the Sanctions Monitoring Board (SMB)

In Malta, the SMB is instrumental in overseeing the execution of sanctions. It ensures that entities adhere to legal requirements, advises on compliance matters, and liaises between national interests and international obligations. The Board’s responsibilities include managing lists of designated persons, facilitating reporting and compliance, and providing guidance on the interpretation and application of sanctions laws.

As the competent authority under the National Interest (Enabling Powers) Act (Chapter 365 of the Laws of Malta), the SMB also issues guidance to the private sector on adherence to these sanctions. These measures reflect Malta’s commitment to upholding sanctions imposed by the European Union, including individual and sectorial sanctions.

Application of the National Interest (Enabling Powers) Act.

The Act mandates regular checks against sanction lists, effective implementation of internal controls and procedures, and immediate notification to the Board upon identification of targeted property. These stipulations are crucial for preventing the inadvertent breach of sanctions, which can have severe legal and financial repercussions.

Malta’s position as a financial hub necessitates robust internal controls and procedures within its institutions. These measures are designed to effectively prevent and detect any potential sanctions violations. The adoption of adequate and effective internal controls is not only a legal requirement but also a safeguard against the hefty penalties associated with breaches of sanctions.

These penalties range from significant fines to imprisonment and can extend to the suspension or cancellation of licenses and the compulsory winding up of the offending corporate entity.

Sanctions in practice: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

The EU’s response to the situation in Ukraine has been dynamic, with multiple packages of sanctions targeting Russia and, by extension, Belarus, to counter their military aggression. These sanctions encompass a wide range of measures, including asset freezes, travel bans, and restrictions across various sectors such as financial, energy, transport, and technology.

Specific restrictions have been imposed on the sale, supply, transfer, or export of goods and technology suited for use in critical sectors, alongside prohibitions on services such as accounting, auditing, and consultancy to Russian government entities or bodies established in Russia. Notably, these measures also include prohibitions related to the Russian energy sector, reflecting a strategic approach to targeting key revenue sources for the Russian Federation.

The geographical scope of these sanctions has been extended to include non-government-controlled areas, with visa restrictions and financial measures designed to limit Russia’s access to EU markets and capital. These actions demonstrate the EU’s resolve to use financial sanctions as a means of exerting pressure on Russia and Belarus to address their roles in destabilizing Ukraine.

Challenges and Considerations

Subject persons face several challenges in navigating the sanctions landscape, including the fluid nature of sanctions lists and the intricacies of cross-jurisdictional compliance. Effective management of these challenges requires a proactive approach, leveraging technology, and staying abreast of legal developments.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Sanctions remain a critical tool in the international community’s efforts to maintain peace, security, and legal order. For entities, particularly in jurisdictions like Malta, understanding the legal obligations and operationalizing compliance mechanisms is essential. Regular training, updates on legal developments, and the implementation of best practices in sanctions screening are recommended to navigate this complex field effectively.

How Aspida can help

Against this backdrop, Aspida’s role becomes even more crucial. The firm’s specialized services in Compliance, Risk Management, and Assurance are designed to navigate these intricate regulatory waters, ensuring that clients not only comply with the current sanctions regime but are also prepared for future developments.

Aspida’s expertise, particularly in aligning internal controls, procedures, and client screening processes with the detailed requirements outlined in the guidance, positions it as an indispensable partner for businesses aiming to mitigate the risks associated with sanctions non-compliance. This partnership is vital for maintaining the integrity and reliability of Malta’s financial and commercial sectors on the global stage.

For a discussion on options available to facilitate your requirements, please contact in the first instance.

This client briefing note is intended merely to highlight issues and not to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal or regulatory compliance advice.

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