Regulating the Lawyer-Enablers of Russia’s War on Ukraine

Regulating the Lawyer-Enablers of Russia’s War on Ukraine

Lawyers represent a significant threat to the integrity of the U.S. sanctions regime. This report analyzes that threat in the context of Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine. Sanctions, particularly individual sanctions, are a central weapon in the United States’ national security arsenal. This report recommends that Congress, federal agencies, and state bar associations implement a comprehensive regulatory regime for lawyers engaging in certain transactional work to ensure U.S. lawyers are no longer enablers of sanctions evasion.

This report recommends amending the Banking Secrecy Act (BSA) to subject financial transactional work completed by lawyers to the same anti-money laundering and anti-sanctions evasion requirements to which banks are subject. Lawyers would be required to verify the true identity of their clients when completing financial transactions on their behalf and file reports with the government on suspicious client activity. This requirement would prevent oligarchs from gaming the U.S. anti-money laundering (AML) system by using lawyers instead of banks for these transactions. Congress must also fully fund the agencies that would implement this new law: the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and the Department of Justice (DOJ). FinCEN must issue comprehensive rules clarifying lawyers’ obligations under the BSA, and OFAC must amend its regulations to plug a critical gap in the current sanctions implementation framework. Finally, state bar associations must require that lawyers be trained on their new obligations.

This report begins with a description of the problem: oligarchic wealth, how that wealth supports Putin’s regime, and how U.S. lawyers enable sanctions evasion (Part I). It then gives an overview of the current regulatory landscape (Part II). Next, it presents how six other countries regulate lawyers as potential enablers of sanctions evasion and other crimes, including money laundering (Part III). Finally, it proposes a comprehensive legislative and regulatory regime to solve the lawyers-as-enablers problem (Part IV).

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Under the guidance of faculty advisers, Law and Policy Lab students counsel real-world clients in such areas as education, copyright and patent reform, governance and transparency in emerging economies, policing technologies, and energy and the environment. Policy labs address problems for real clients, using analytic approaches that supplement traditional legal analysis. The clients may be local, state, or federal public agencies or officials, or private non-profit entities such as NGOs and foundations. Typically, policy labs assist clients through empirical evidence that scopes a policy problem and assesses options and courses of action. The methods may include comparative case studies, population surveys, stakeholder interviews, experimental methods, program evaluation or big data science, and a mix of qualitative and quantitative analysis. Faculty and students may apply theoretical perspectives from cognitive and social psychology, decision theory, economics, organizational behavior, political science or other behavioral science disciplines.