Did An Acquitted War Crimes Suspect Just Show How To Get Off The Treasury Department’s Blacklist?

Did An Acquitted War Crimes Suspect Just Show How To Get Off The Treasury Department’s Blacklist?

The Treasury Department quietly removed a former Croatian general from its sanctions blacklist after the accused war criminal filed a lawsuit to clear his name. Ante Gotovina’s success could provide a roadmap of sorts for the accused terrorists, war criminals and drug kingpins who feel they’ve been wrongfully languishing on the list.

U.S. financial sanctions have been credited with bringing Iran to the negotiating table by decimating its economy, but they’re not just used against Tehran. Thousands of alleged criminals of all stripes, from embezzlers to supporters of various dictatorships, have also found themselves in Treasury’s crosshairs.

Getting off the rolls is a long, difficult process that, in a twist worthy of Kafka, involves petitioning the same Treasury Department office that initially issued the sanctions. Those on the blacklist aren’t entitled to a hearing, to see the evidence being used against them, or even to a prompt response. Gotovina, after waiting more than a year, finally sued the government on Jan. 6.

More lawsuits could follow now that others on the blacklist have seen that legal motions can spur the Treasury Department to act.

"You’re basically putting the screws to them and forcing their hand because they’re going to have to answer one way or another in court," said Erich Ferrari, a lawyer who’s built a practice representing people who want to get off the sanctions list.

He doesn’t always succeed. Ferrari recently lost a case when a federal court upheld Treasury’s sanctions against Fernando Zevallos, a disgraced former businessman serving time in a Peruvian prison for allegedly running an international drug business through an airline that he owned.

A United Nations tribunal indicted Gotovina in 2001 on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. In 2003, then-President George W. Bush sanctioned him after Gotovina fled rather turn himself in to authorities. He was arrested in 2005 in the Canary Islands and jailed at the Hague. Gotovina was convicted in 2011 of war crimes and sentenced to 24 years in prison, but that decision was overturned on appeal in November 2012.  

Gotovina is now a free man who wants to get into tuna farming. It’s hard, though, to start an international business while you’re on a Treasury Department blacklist. No American person or company can sell you equipment, insure your boats, or process your banking transactions.

"Those practical impediments to his livelihood are eliminated by being taken off the list," said Stephen Gavin, Gotovina’s lawyer and a partner at Patton Boggs LLP.

Gavin said Treasury didn’t call or send a letter to notify Gotovina that he was no longer on the sanctions blacklist. In a brief online notice, the head of the Treasury office only that "circumstances no longer warrant" keeping Gotovina’s name on the list.

*Correction, Feb. 7, 2014: The original title of this blog post wrongly implied that Ante Gotovina was still an accused war criminal. Gotovina had actually been cleared of those charges in 2012 and is no longer tied to any alleged wrongdoing. The title has been corrected.