On 10 November 2022, the UK’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI”) published its annual review. This has been a particularly momentous year for OFSI, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine leading to a dramatic increase in sanctions activity and focus on OFSI’s work. In fact, as identified in the review, Russia has now become the UK’s most sanctioned nation, overtaking both Libya and Iran.
The increase of sanctions relating to Russia is not a surprise. The review states that the “unprovoked and premediated” attack has led to the “most stringent financial sanctions in history”. OFSI reports that a total of £18.39 billion in frozen funds were held by or on behalf of persons designated under the Russia sanctions regime; a figure considerably more than the £12.4 billion of frozen funds held under all other British sanctions regimes. These figures do not include the value of any properties subject to an asset freeze.
Over the course of the year, OFSI added 1,271 new Russia regime designated persons to its consolidated list; this is almost 50% of the entire list across 30 different regimes.
As well as a huge uptick in designations linked to Russia, there has also been a surge in specific licence applications and licences granted. OFSI received 642 licence applications under the Russia regime in the first six months and by 24 August 2022 it had issued 33 general licences connected with Russia. In addition, over the course of the financial year, OFSI issued 42 new licences and 107 amendments to licences across 9 sanctions regimes to allow specific activities to be performed by applicants, as well as 17 general licences – up from the one general licence issued last year. The majority of these licences related to the Libyan regime.
OFSI’s enforcement powers have been bolstered in the last year, including the introduction of strict liability for the imposition of civil penalties and the ability to name and shame those in breach of sanctions. However, enforcement action is still relatively rare and the fine levels are low in comparison with other regulators; only two monetary penalties worth £86,393.45 were issued in 2021 to 2022.
There have been 236 breach reports made since Russia’s invasion and we expect to see enforcement action arising from breaches related to the ever-developing Russia regime. OFSI’s evolving enforcement strategy will see the implementation of a new intelligence-led proactive compliance and enforcement approach, and OFSI anticipates taking on more, and more complex, enforcement cases over the coming year.
The review highlights OFSI’s dramatic increase in activity over the past year. By the end of 2022, OFSI will employ over 100 full time staff (over double the level at the beginning of the year), which will enable it to continue to improve its existing functions, expand its capabilities and deepen its international engagement, as well as increase the speed in which it can issue licences and fines for non-compliance with the UK regulations. Going forward into the new year, it will be important to be alive to the issues raised by sanctions, and no one should be under any illusion that OFSI will be taking its foot off the enforcement peddle.