Ex-Sanctions Enforcer Aims to Help Business Navigate Uncertainty


John E. Smith, the one-time top enforcer of U.S. economic and trade sanctions, has landed at a powerhouse law firm where he aims to help companies navigate conflicting signals coming out of Washington on sanctions policy.

The former director of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control has joined Morrison & Foerster’s Washington office, but will spend time in Europe and Japan, too.

“This is a period of great uncertainty in the sanctions space around the world, with the president’s withdrawal from the Iran (nuclear) deal,” Smith told Bloomberg Law.

“There’s also uncertainty over the Russia sanctions, with the president and Congress sending frequently conflicting signals, and industry around the world left guessing,” adding that “companies are grappling with how to comply and what they can expect the U.S. government may or may not do in the future.”

While at the Treasury Department, Smith was responsible for developing, implementing and enforcing government sanctions.

Smith left the government in May after more than 11 years at the agency and will co-chair Morrison & Foerster’s national security practice alongside Nick Spiliotes and John Carlin, a former U.S. assistant attorney general for national security.

“Having John join us really fits into the firm’s strategic initiative to develop a group of elite litigators in Washington and around the firm that can handle a really wide range of enforcement matters, from FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act), to anti money laundering and cartels,” said Spiliotes.

Smith said he expects an increase in enforcement actions around sanctions.

“This administration has made it very clear that it intends to enforce sanctions vigorously and it is conveying that message to companies in very stark terms,” he said.

Under the Trump administration, the United States has escalated sanctions against Iran, Russia, Venezuela and other countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Russell-Kraft in New York at srussellkraft@gmail.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com