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Posted April 15, 2003 by publisher in Cuba-US Trade

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By Doreen Hemlock | Business Writer | Sun Sentinel

Every year, dozens of U.S. companies agree to pay millions of dollars in fines for running afoul of “The Trading With the Enemy Act” or other sanctions on business with such nations as Cuba, Iraq, North Korea and Libya.

Starting this month, and responding to pressures from Ralph Nader’s consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, the Treasury office enforcing the sanctions now publishes weekly a list of companies that agree to those civil penalties.

Two South Florida businesses—a unit of Israeli-shipping giant Zim and Miami-based A.B.Y. Paralegal Inc.—surfaced among 59 companies on the first two lists that cover settlements made since last fall. They agreed to pay $250,000 and $750, respectively, for alleged violations on business with Cuba, advocates for greater public disclosure announced Monday in Washington. D.C.

The New York Yankees also agreed to pay $75,000 for business with Cuba, Chevron/Texaco roughly $14,000 for business with Iraq and Exxon Mobil $50,000 in fines for business with Sudan, the advocates said at a news conference, calling attention to the little-noticed reports published by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Controls since April 4.

The companies on the Treasury list could not be reached for comment Monday.

Treasury officials and corporate executives say nearly all cases that result in the relatively small civil fines cover technical errors of the complex sanction laws, often inadvertent mistakes such as failing to put a license number on paperwork. Some are reported to Treasury voluntarily, and the settlements do not necessarily involve admissions of wrongdoing.

More serious cases involving willful violation of sanctions for profit and concealment of trade through third-countries are prosecuted in criminal court, with far heftier penalties, according to government and corporate specialists.

Russell Mokhiber, editor of Washington-based legal publication Corporate Crime Reporter, who spearheaded the disclosure push with help from Public Citizen’s Litigation Group, said Monday he neither backs the sanctions nor can assure they work but “adverse publicity is one of the greatest deterrents against corporate crime and wrongdoing.”

Mokhiber urged Treasury’s OFAC office to provide far greater details on the civil fines that it now discloses in one-line entries, with no details on date or circumstances.

Executives familiar with trade with Cuba say they don’t expect increased disclosure will influence business.

Treasury is not cracking down on U.S. firms allowed to sell food to the communist island. And companies generally welcome disclosure anyway, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, a New York-based group that monitors business with Cuba.

Medill News Service reporter Hannah Karp contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

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