OFAC Targets Sports & Entertainment Figures

Jill Williamson, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

On August 9, 2017, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at the U.S. Treasury Department, issued a Press  Release and identified Mexican national Raul Flores Hernandez and the Flores Drug Trafficking Organization (Flores DTO) as Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, also known as the Kingpin Act. OFAC also designated a large number of individuals and 42 entities for involvement with, and acting as fronts for, Raul Flores Hernandez.

Many of these individual and entities are in the sports and entertainment industries, including  professional soccer player, Rafael Marquez Alvarez (Rafa Marquez), Mexican singer Julio Cesar Alvarez Montelongo (Julion Alvarez), Mexican Soccer Club Club Deportivo Morumbi and the Grand Casino Guadalajara.

As of the issuance date of these designations, no U.S. persons, companies, nor any individuals in the US, are allowed to conduct transactions with these individuals or entities.  Penalties under the Kingpin Act can run as high as $10MM per violation, with individual violators subject to imprisonment for up to 30 years.  Even civil penalties for inadvertent violations can run over $1M per violation.  It is worth noting that OFAC violations are based on strict liability.

If you would like more information, a better understanding or need guidance regarding compliance with these regulations, contact Jill M. Williamson, a Rimon Law Partner based in Washington, DC. Of course you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers at Rimon with whom you regularly work.

A Cryptocurrency by Any Other Name May Still Smell Like a Security

Dror Futter, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

Although the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has been studying blockchain and cryptocurrencies since 2013, until its recent pronouncement, the SEC had been silent with respect with respect to its regulatory authority with respect to Initial Coin Offerings. An Initial Coin Offering (“ICO”) is a company’s release of its own cryptocurrency in exchange for tokens of a pre-existing cryptocurrency (e.g., bitcoins and in rare instances, a fiat currency – currency backed by the issuing government such as Dollars or Euro). The ICO issuing company effectively ‘sells’ a pre-defined number of coins or crypto-tokens to purchasers.

The surge in ICO’s has been so dramatic, that in 2017 ICO’s surpassed venture capital as the primary source for funding blockchain ventures and recent news reports suggest that funds raised through an ICO were “crowding out” venture investors. Most ICO’s in the United States have been conducted without registration under U.S. securities laws. Typically, the issuer simply provides potential investors with a “White Paper” outlining how they intend to use the money raised by the ICO.  To put it charitably, the quality and detail of these White Papers varies widely.

The similarity between the term “Initial Coin Offering” and “Initial Public Offering” or IPO is more than coincidental and these similarities have now prompted the SEC to issue its first pronouncements on the subject of ICO regulation under the securities laws and on July 25, 2017, the SEC did just that and issued the following three documents:
• An SEC Report of Investigation;
• A Press Release about the report; and
Guidance to Purchasers of Digital Tokens

The issue the SEC has been grappling with is the application of the definition of a “security” to the tokens being issued in an ICO.  In a 1946 Supreme Court case Securities and Exchange Commission v. Howey Co., the U.S. Supreme Court identified four criteria (which have evolved a bit since that decision) that need to be present for an investment contract, within the meaning of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, to be a security.  They are: (1) the investment of money or other consideration, (2) In a common enterprise (although there is a split over how “commonality” should defined), (3) where investors expect a profit, and (4) any returns to the investors are derived solely from efforts of the promoters (issuers) or other third parties. The Court noted that the facts and circumstances of each case will determine whether an instrument is a security, even if it does not technically fall within the narrow criteria of their specific decision.

In short, the SEC press release stated:
• Tokens offered and sold by “The DAO” (the case that had been investigated) were securities, subject to the federal securities laws;
• Issuers of blockchain technology-based securities must register offers and sales unless a valid exemption applies;
• Those participating in unregistered offerings may be liable for securities law violations; and
• Securities exchanges enabling trading in these securities must register unless an exemption applies.

The SEC’s documents are silent on so-called “utility tokens” or “service tokens” – tokens that allow the purchaser to obtain a service (e.g., data storage; online games) and it is likely we will hear more from the SEC in future, since their press release contained a clear warning the securities laws and regulations apply to ICO’s. Although not all tokens sold in an ICO will automatically be considered a security, there remains significant uncertainty and most knowledgeable attorneys in this arena have already been advising their clients to avail themselves of the exemptions to the registration requirements (e.g., Reg D, Reg A+ or Crowdfunding under the JOBS Act).

This is an extremely complex and challenging (and evolving) area of the law and regulation and you can read the entire Client Alert: Casting Light Over Recent Events Concerning the SEC’s views on ICOs, Cryptocurrencies, Tokens, Securities and their Legal Repercussions.  Of course, if you want to know even more or need guidance, you should contact Dror Futter directly and you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the attorneys at Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Retaining Jurisdiction Requires More than Just Words

By Douglas Schneller, Partner, Rimon Law

Bankruptcy plans and contracts approved by bankruptcy courts routinely include “retention of jurisdiction” provisions, but a case decided last month, Gupta v. Quincy Med. Ctr. (“Gupta”), reminds us that the jurisdiction of a bankruptcy court is not unlimited merely by reciting the words. In the Gupta decision, the First Circuit held that unless the dispute involves or affects the debtor’s estate or requires interpretation of a bankruptcy court order or bankruptcy law underlying the dispute, the appropriate venue to consider the dispute may be state court, even against the expectations or wishes of the parties.

In this case, the parties entered into an agreement for the sale of assets by the seller and in the contract, the buyer agreed to pay severance to any employees of the seller that were fired after closing. Literally the day after signing the agreement, the seller (the ‘debtor’) filed voluntary Chapter 11 petitions and a sale motion under the Bankruptcy Code seeking approval of the asset purchase agreement. The Bankruptcy Court approved the agreement and sale, which then closed. The Bankruptcy Court’s order, as well as the order confirming the proposed Chapter 11 plan of reorganization, each contained a provision that the Bankruptcy Court would retain jurisdiction over disputes.

You can guess what happened next. After the closing of the asset sale, the buyer terminated the seller’s executives, effective as of the closing date and refused to pay severance. Inevitably, the lawsuits followed. Although the Bankruptcy Court decided it had jurisdiction to hear the claims based on the ‘retention of jurisdiction’ clauses, on June 2, 2017, the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision concluded that the Bankruptcy Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The First Circuit vacated the judgments against the buyer and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the claims against the buyer. In short, the court concluded that the contract language in the asset purchase agreement was not sufficient by itself for the Bankruptcy Court to retain jurisdiction to hear disputes, because a bankruptcy court cannot retain jurisdiction it never had. Indeed, the court noted that the claims could well have arisen entirely outside of bankruptcy and could be decided solely under Massachusetts contract law.

There is a lot more detail and analysis and if you want to read the entire Client Alert: First Circuit: Bankruptcy Court “Retention of Jurisdiction” Provision Requires More Than Mere Words and contact Douglas Schneller directly.

Of course, you should always feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the professionals at Rimon Law with whom you routinely work.

Legal Entity Identifiers Require More Invasive Information

Robin Powers, Partner &  James Ballard, Paralegal

The Global Market Entity Identifier Utility issues Legal Entity Identifiers (LEI) which are unique 20-digit alpha-numeric identification codes, based on standards developed by the International Organization for Standardization.  Many regulatory authorities require financial market participants that engage in certain transactions to obtain an LEI. Read more about the LEI.

In the past, an entity could simply provide self-identifying information (i.e., “Level 1 Data”), but now GMEI Utility is requiring Level 2 Data – information relating to the parent companies of its registered entities, based on the accounting relationship of the entities.

This reporting requirement will permanently link data collected in relation to an entity’s LEI to all of its daughter entities. If the parent does not have its own LEI, other identifying information (parent’s legal name, address and registration authority information) is now being required. There are some exceptions or allowable reasons for opting out of providing certain information, but it is clear that LEI issuers are seeking additional scrutiny of parent companies.

Could an enterprise reorganize in order to avoid reporting by qualifying for an exclusion? Perhaps. Could contractual restrictions on disclosure allow for an opt-out?  It’s possible. Could accounting and financial restructuring dis aggregate the basis for the connection? Maybe. Whatever the consequences and reactions, legal counsel should be consulted to assess the risks of providing such additional information in this context.

You should contact Robin Powers and James Ballard directly if you have questions and they have prepared a more detailed client alert you can read:  Maintaining Your Legal Entity Identifier Just Got More Invasive.

Of course, if you need assistance or more information, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum or any of the attorneys are Rimon Law with whom you regularly work.

Marketing Hedge Funds – Why “Fiduciary” Matters

–  by  Thomas M. White

The Department of Labor (“DOL”) recently adopted a rule expanding the definition of who may be a fiduciary under ERISA.  Significant because ERISA-covered plans control enormous pools of capital and ERISA fiduciaries are prohibited from engaging in self-dealing transactions.  The new rule, which went into effect on June 9, 2017, affects how investments in hedge funds will be marketed to ERISA-covered plans and IRAs.

If a person makes a “recommendation” regarding an investment or investment management and receives a fee from a plan, a plan participant, a fiduciary, an IRA or an owner of an IRA that person will be considered a fiduciary and that definition applies even if the underlying assets are not “plan assets” within the meaning of the DOL’s Plan Asset Regulation.  If this sounds confusing, appreciate there is litigation currently pending regarding whether the DOL’s rule applies to IRAs or their owners.

Probably the most critical determination will be whether a “recommendation” has been made for purposes of this new rule.  A “recommendation” involves the purchase, holding, managing or sale of securities and is “a communication that, based on its content, context and presentation, would reasonably be viewed as a suggestion that the advice recipient engage in or refrain from taking a particular course of action.”  In fact, a series of communications may result in a “recommendation,” even if each individual communications may not rise to that level.  Although general communications are not, advice based on individual characteristics of a potential investor are likely “recommendations.”

There are a number of regulatory exemptions, such as recommendations made to a “sophisticated” adviser or investor or if an adviser offers advice to an independent plan or IRA fiduciary in an arm’s-length transaction and the adviser reasonably believes the independent fiduciary is a qualified financial institution (e.g., a bank, insurance company or a broker-dealer) or if the recipient of the information manages at least $50 million in assets regardless of whether those assets are plan assets.

Why does all this matter.  Make a presentation covering the general features of a specific hedge fund to a meeting room packed with potential investors and investment advisers.  After the formal presentation concludes, an audience member comes over to the presenter, describes himself as an IRA owner and his particular circumstances – a discussion ensues.  If the speaker isn’t careful about what is said, and a fee may be earned by the hedge fund it may be a problem.  There are other examples too numerous to describe here.

To minimize the likelihood they will be considered fiduciaries under the new rule, hedge funds should determine if they want to market to IRAs, small plans and individuals who have investment discretion over the investments in their profit sharing and 401(k) accounts.  Marketing materials should be reviewed to determine if they need to be modified to avoid a problem.  Even subscription agreements should make it clear the potential investor is not a small plan or an IRA unless it is being advised by an investment professional who fits under the exemption. Marketing professionals should be trained as to what they may and may not say and written reports describing conversations and communications with potential investors should be retained.

If you want to read more about the potential application of this new rule you can read the entire Rimon Client Alert or contact Tom White directly.  Mr. White specializes in the full scope of human resources management, such as Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, Healthcare, and Employment Law.

Net Neutrality: Is the Cease Fire Over?

By Stephen Díaz Gavin  *

The way the U.S. Government regulates the Internet is back in play again. The outcome of the long running battle over “net neutrality” and regulation of the Internet – now more than 15 years old — is still uncertain. However, it is clear that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is stepping back from the stronger supervision of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) adopted in March 2015 under former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the insistence of former President Obama.
On May 18, 2017, the FCC voted to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to step back from the agency’s controversial March 2015 decision to treat ISPs as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act. Instead, the “proposed rule,” will revert to classifying ISPs as providers of an “information service” and return jurisdiction over ISPs privacy practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – a clear indication of the direction the FCC will take under the current administration.
Law professor Tim Wu coined the term “net neutrality” in 2003.  As the FCC’s current Chairman Pai recently noted in an interview in the Wall Street Journal, the term “[i]s one of the more seductive marketing slogans that’s ever been attached to a public policy issue”.  Who can be against “leaving the Internet alone?” (“Why ‘Net Neutrality’ Drives the Left Crazy,” Wall Street Journal).   Apparently, many believe that it should not be left alone: the FCC received nearly 1.25 million comments submitted via the Internet in the three weeks following FCC Chairman Pai’s announcement that he intended to reconsider the Title II rules; nearly all opposing the proposal.
At the core of the dispute is the tension between the ISPs on the one hand, and streaming content providers like Netflix and Amazon, as well as Internet giants like Google and Facebook on the other.
Consumers fear a slowdown in service. The ISPs maintain the March 2015 common carrier regulation decision will stifle investments and ultimately produce what consumers fear:  a slower Internet.  Indeed, in the NPRM the FCC cited a decline in investment since the March 2015 Order in support of changing the rules.  The clash of interests highlights how outdated the old ways of government oversight of telecommunications have become. The Communications Act of 1934, was originally enacted to monitor the monopoly telephone provider at the time (ATT), based on the model of regulating railroad service and freight rates under the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 – hardly a relevant basis for overseeing the backbone of 21st century technology.
The common carrier regulatory model prohibits additional charges for streaming content providers, which could be viewed as discriminatory. However, such a regulatory structure does not account for how ISPs pay for upgrades to maintain service quality as consumer demand increases for such content streaming.  Video content producers that stream large volumes of data, slow up Internet connections. Although the largest ISPs have agreed voluntarily not to charge the Netflix and Amazons of the world for doing so, where must the money come from in order to continue to upgrade capacity to maintain high speed download?  Retail consumers are concerned about higher rates, surcharges or deliberate “slowing” of service, yet these same consumers are customers of over-the-top online video gaming and streaming services that consume huge amounts of capacity.  Consumers always want more and faster service and they want it at the lowest price.
Given the current Republican majority, the FCC will likely eliminate Title II regulation of ISPs as it has proposed.  However, the decision can and will again be challenged in the courts (as has every prior rule on net neutrality).  Even if upheld by the courts, only Congress can define ‘net neutrality’ once and for all and give some degree of regulatory certainty to the regulations (which can be changed by a Democratic majority just as easily as the current Republican controlled FCC has done to the Obama era rules).
Net neutrality is now a hot political issue and despite current Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, it is uncertain whether a working majority in both exists that can adopt legislation to guide the FCC.  No matter who you are, in the debate over net neutrality, clearly nobody is neutral. Until Congress acts to give some greater definition to the term, successive FCC Chairmen will be able to reinterpret net neutrality as they see fit.

* This post was derived and adapted from a Rimon Law Client Alert “No Peace in Sight for Net Neutrality” by Stephen Díaz Gavin, who you can contact directly for more information.  

Missing Children, Genetics & the Law

As I mentioned in my Legal Bytes post a few weeks ago (Forensic DNA and Missing Children: The Legal & Ethical Issues), I had the honor and privilege of being a featured speaker on 25th of May 2017 – International Missing Children’s Day – at this year’s conference for Missing Children and Genetic Identity, organized and chaired by Patrícia Cipriano, President of the Portuguese Association for Missing and Exploited Children [Associaçāo Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas] held at Lusófona University in Lisbon.

Featuring expert investigators, law enforcement, geneticists and forensic scientists, the conference explored how tough police work, forensic science, government legislators, judges and lawyers can work more effectively and cooperatively within and across national borders.  It also reminded us that DNA kits and learning aides for use by parents, coupled with greater educational efforts and more timely reporting, can help save children’s lives and futures.

The conference was attended by notable dignitaries, including Charlie Hedges, Police Expert, Missing Children and European Alert Coordinator for Amber Alert Europe, Professor Maria do Carmo Fonseca, President of the Institute of Molecular Medicine, Professor Maria do Ceu Machado, President of Infarmed, members of Portuguese Assembly of the Republic , senior law enforcement and forensic scientists with closing remarks delivered by His Excellency Dr. Fernando Negrão, a jurist and former Minister of Social Security, Family and Children, Minister of Justice, director general of the Judicial Police and chairman of the Board of Directors of the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction.

The conference highlighted the work being done in Portugal and, of course, the work that still needs to be done.  You can read and download the Conference Agenda & Brochure (Lisbon, PT) and feel free to take a look at my presentation Missing Children – Missing Opportunities, Legal Obstacles in our DNA (Rosenbaum) right here on Legal Bytes.

As always, f you would like to know more about this post, the conference, or the topics discussed at the conference, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum.

 

 

US Treasury Regulation Changes Could Impact Foreign Owned Single Member LLCs

Melinda Fellner Bramwit, Partner, Rimon, P.C.

Changes to US Treasury Regulations Under Section 6038 of the Internal Revenue Code could affect filings for single member LLCs owned by non-US individuals or entities.

Many non-resident individuals and non-resident entities maintain title to real estate and other assets in single member limited liability companies incorporated under state law in the United States, for a variety of reasons.  Under Federal tax law, such an entity is disregarded for tax purposes unless the owner elects otherwise.  From a corporate perspective, these limited liability companies can be used to harness assets in an entity separate from the owner, providing a layer of corporate protection and perhaps anonymity for the ultimate owner.  These entities are also reasonably simple to form and maintain.

Changes to U.S. Treasury Regulations effective December 13, 2016, throw a wrinkle into the use of this malleable entity in some circumstances, which can be managed with some planning.

These changes require that a non-resident owning 100% of a United States limited liability company (“LLC”) file a Form 5472, an information return, when certain transactions occur between certain parties (“related” parties) and the LLC.

The following example from the regulations illustrates a scenario where this filing would be triggered:

In year 1, F, a foreign corporation forms and contributes assets to US-LLC, a U.S. limited liability company that is a disregarded entity for US Federal tax purposes.  In year 2, F contributes funds to US-LLC, and in year 3, US-LLC makes a payment to F.

Under the modified regulations, F’s payment to US-LLC as well as US-LLC’s payment back to F are both reportable transactions for which a Form 5472 would be required with respect to US-LLC.

This is a simple, yet common situation which triggers the filing requirement. It is important to note that this requirement is applicable to tax years of entities beginning on or after January 1, 2017 and ending on or after December 13, 2017 (Note: This is not a typo. The date is the 13th, not the 31st).  As such, there is a window of opportunity for tax planning to avoid the requirement of this form and if you want to know more or need help, don’t hesitate to contact me, Melinda Fellner Bramwit, a partner here at Rimon, P.C.

Of course, if you need assistance, you may always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the lawyers with whom you routinely work at Rimon Law.

Forensic DNA and Missing Children: The Legal & Ethical Issues

Since 1983, when the day was designated by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as National Missing Children’s Day in the United States and spreading internationally through the Global Missing Children’s Network (GMCN), May 25th has been celebrated as International Missing Children’s Day.  GMAC is a jointly sponsored venture of the U.S. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC),  that focuses on educating parents on steps they can take in protecting their children, as well sharing best practices and information in investigating cases of child abduction, trafficking and illegal adoptions.

This year, I have the distinct privilege and great honor of speaking at the conference for Missing Children and Genetic Identity, organized by the Portuguese Association for Missing and Exploited Children [Associaçāo Portuguesa de Crianças Desaparecidas] and sponsored by Genomed, to be held at Lusófona University in Lisbon on the 25th of May 2017 – International Missing Children’s Day.

The conference will explore the connection between modern genetics and forensic science and on national and international efforts to aide investigations of missing and abused children.  The legal and ethical issues surrounding DNA collection and use, the pros and cons of storing DNA samples and maintaining a database of digital DNA ‘fingerprints’ as well as other bio metric information from individuals – convicted criminals, arrested individuals, victims, family members and even the general public – continues to be hotly debated on the national and international level throughout the world.  In addition to issues of privacy and security, the use and potential abuse of genetic and other bio metric evidence, whether to exonerate individuals or convict guilty individuals, is not just complicated, it is inconsistent across jurisdictional borders.  Sharing of critical information that may help identify a child or investigate a missing person, whether or not a crime may have been committed, is neither assured nor routine – despite the obvious benefits a regulated and carefully constructed information sharing system might be to family members, law enforcement and the forensic scientific community.

The conference, one of many throughout  the world on May 25th, will attract distinguished guests and provide a forum for discussion and shine a much needed spotlight on the legal and ethical challenges and opportunities at the intersection of science, law and law enforcement. I will publish a copy of my presentation and remarks after the conference concludes, but if you would like to know more about the conference, feel free to contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or the organizers directly.

 

US-EU Data Transfer Privacy Shield

Being referred to by the European Union as the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, the new EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on May 25, 2018.  There is even a ‘countdown’ clock on the website and under the GDPR, “Personal Data” means information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (including email addresses, telephone numbers, addresses and IP addresses).   While the European Commission has determined a number of countries already meet the ‘adequate protection’ test, the United States is not one of them!

As most readers of Legal Bytes already know, personal data cannot be transferred to from the EU to a non-European Union/European Economic Area country, unless that country can ensure “adequate levels of protection” for such personal data.

As background, in July of 2016, a new framework for the movement of personal data between the EU and the US was finalized – EU-U.S. and Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield Frameworks – which was put into place in an effort to meet the requirements of the EU Data Directive.   However, critics noting the holes in that framework, have generated increasing concern as the 2018 effective date of the new EU GDPR approaches.   A few months ago, immediately following the inauguration ceremony, President Trump issued United States’ Executive Order 13768 (January 25, 2017) that has created even greater concern.  While it is possible a new or refined agreement and framework may be put into place in the months leading up to 2018, there is no certainty.

What do you need to know? What should you consider doing now?   My colleague Jill Williamson has written an article which has been published in Risk & Compliance Magazine, entitled “The Fragile Framework of the Privacy Shield“.   If you want to know more about the privacy and data protection implications of the new framework, its potential risks to your business and what you should be considering as you look to the future, feel free to contact Jill Williamson directly.  Of course, you can always contact me, Joe Rosenbaum, or any of the Rimon lawyers with whom you regularly work.