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Turkey’s Justice and Interior Ministers Sanctioned

Today the United States took the extraordinary step of imposing sanctions on Turkey’s Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gul and Minister of Interior Suleyman Soylu. The sanctions were imposed under the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program, promulgated by Executive Order 13818 pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Act of 2016 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, among other legal authorities.

Global Magnitsky Corruption and Human Rights Sanctions

The Global Magnitsky Sanctions target certain corrupt acts and “serious human rights abuses” committed by foreign persons (U.S. dual nationals and multinational businesses appear to have similar sanctions exposure, and U.S. persons are punishable for facilitating corruption or human rights abuses, or breaching the Global Magnitsky Sanctions). Persons sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Sanctions are “blocked,” meaning that their property and interests in property in the United States must be frozen and they are generally barred from entry into the United States.

While EO 13818 does not define “serious human rights abuse” (the Global Magnitsky Act provides illustrations), today’s sanctions against the Turkish officials were imposed for Turkey’s detention of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, which the Treasury Department described as a “serious human rights abuse.”

Financial and Immigration Sanctions on Turkish Officials

As a result of today’s sanctions action, the Turkish Justice and Interior Ministers are “Specially Designated Nationals” or “blocked” persons whose property and interests in property in the United States must be frozen by U.S. persons. They are also barred from entry into the United States (however, the Global Magnitsky Act “excepts from immigration sanctions persons whose admission to the United States would “further important law enforcement objectives” or is “necessary to permit” the United States to comply with obligations vis-à-vis the United Nations.”)

Extraordinary Action Against NATO Member State

As discussed in prior MassPoint posts, the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program is extraordinary for its substantive and global sweep. For example, the sanctions define corruption broadly, omit important definitions (such as “serious human rights abuse”) and do not require a jurisdictional nexus between the United States and foreign corrupt acts or human rights abuses.

The imposition of sanctions on current high-ranking officials of a NATO member state government is remarkable, legally and geopolitically, and appears to show that the Trump Administration is willing to impose powerful sanctions transactionally, rather than strategically with wider bilateral and multilateral implications in mind.

Foreign Governments, Businesses and Individuals Should Understand the Global Magnitsky Sanctions and Take Steps to Avoid Sanctions Exposure

The Global Magnitsky Sanctions reach current and former government officials, state-owned and private enterprises, and other individuals. All of these constituencies have a particular interest in understanding the Global Magnitsky Sanctions and taking steps to avoid them, including for acts that constitute or can be construed as facilitating corruption and human rights abuses (such as through financial transactions).

Moreover, today’s imposition of sanctions, while specific to events in and involving Turkey, should not be interpreted as strictly unique to Turkey. As discussed in this MassPoint post, the Global Magnitsky Sanctions are, in the view of some in the U.S. Government, a “central tool of U.S. foreign policy” and can be used to advance a number of legal and policy objectives around the globe.

Today’s actions against Turkish officials, as well as the Trump Administration’s prior enforcement of and statements on the Global Magnitsky Sanctions, are clear signals that the Trump Administration is apparently willing to deploy sanctions without necessarily exhausting other available options.

Contact MassPoint

For more information about today’s Turkey action, the Global Magnitsky Sanctions and about MassPoint’s sanctions counseling and compliance services, please contact Hdeel Abdelhady at or +1-202-630-2512.

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