BY ORLANDO GOTAY / TAX ATTORNEY
If you are a US person who runs a business in Mexico and have not heard about OFAC, perhaps you should. OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Control), is part of the US Treasury. It administers dozens of programs related to trade and economic sanctions to further US national security interests.
OFAC foreign asset control programs designate both foreign individuals and entities for economic sanctions. Some of these are country focused, such as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea. Others are broader, making designations under Global Terrorism, Narcotics Trafficking and “Kingpin” lists, among others. Because these are economic sanctions, the lists include entities in which target persons have a majority ownership too, even if the named entities themselves have no actual relation to what got the “owners” on the list. This is the so-called “Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) and Blocked Persons” list.
Sanctions are a bad thing. One does not want to be on these lists. Why is this relevant to you? Great question!
If you are a US person, you are not allowed- in fact, you are prohibited by federal law- from doing business, receiving or giving property to anyone on these lists. OFAC has a comprehensive database of listed persons and entities that change constantly. I just searched it to figure out how many entries it had for Mexico; it returned over seven hundred names. On the basis of a name alone, some businesses would hardly be noticed. There is a childcare center, hotels, even an air taxi service. But the rule is there and it’s on you to not do any business with listed persons.
Why? Because, you can be fined for a violation of OFAC sanctions if you have prohibited transactions with sanctioned persons. More serious cases could warrant more comprehensive actions, ranging all the way to criminal prosecution.
Compliance with these rules can be burdensome. There are screening services that will clear names for you. If you are operating a souvenir shop somewhere, you may not need to do much screening. If you are a real estate developer, the scope of your activities could be such where it may be worth the while, maybe even critical, to screen against the OFAC list.
Of course, the screening universe includes not only clients, but even partners and service providers. Remember, it’s on you not to do business with them! You were told.
Orlando Gotay is a California licensed tax attorney (Master of Laws in Taxation) admitted to practice before the IRS, the U.S. Tax Court and other taxing agencies. His love of things Mexican has led him to devote part of his practice to federal and state tax matters of U.S. expats in Mexico. He can be reached at [email protected] Facebook: GotayTaxLawyer or WhatsApp at +17604491668. This is just a most general outline. It is informational only and not meant as legal advice.