Print Article

Territorial scope of financial sanctions and extra-territoriality in a post-Brexit world


Extraterritorial Application

While the UK government was concerned with ensuring the continuity of existing EU sanctions regimes so that they continued in effect in UK law following the end of the Brexit transition period,

  • Various changes were introduced in the run-up to Brexit,
  • Including the scope of existing sanctions, which impact the extra-territorial scope of such sanctions.

The changes potentially increase the jurisdictional reach of UK financial sanctions and appear intended to facilitate cooperation between the UK and other countries' sanctions enforcement agencies, such as the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

The jurisdictional scope of UK financial sanctions is already broad, but it does require there to be a connection to the UK, which the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) refers to as a “UK nexus.”[1]

To date, OFSI guidance has provided a degree of comfort to overseas businesses as it has said that it would not seek to:

  • "Artificially bring something within UK authority that does not clearly and naturally come under it".

While welcome, it is not clear what the OFSI meant by this statement – although it may be an implicit commentary on:

  • The exceptionally wide views of jurisdiction taken by US authorities over non-US individuals and companies resulting from US dollar-denominated transactions, or
  • Even so-called "secondary sanctions" can be imposed without any US nexus whatsoever.

Potentially comforting informal guidance  aside, enter the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 (SAMLA), which has broadened the territorial application of the UK sanctions regime.

SAMLA applies to conduct (acts and omissions) both:

  • In the UK or in the UK’s territorial sea by any person; and
  • By a “UK person” anywhere else in the world.

This express drafting provides OFSI with a clear legal basis

  • To go after activity involving UK persons and UK nationals overseas.

It also raises increasingly complex compliance questions over how multi-national businesses should apply different sanctions regimes to activities of foreign businesses employing UK nationals.

This is particularly the case where there may be different standards relating to country sanctions programs between UK, EU, US and other sanctions regimes, which may diverge over time as the UK begins to exercise an increasingly independent sanctions policy.

Implications for investigations and enforcement

These extra-territoriality-related developments should also be viewed against the wider context of OFSI’s increased enforcement capabilities, which came into effect in 2017 under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.[2]

It is also clear that OFSI is ready and willing to use its increased powers, as illustrated by the recent record financial penalty against Standard Chartered Bank in 2020 for over £20 million.

These developments are consistent with the general trend in UK law since the Bribery Act 2010 came into effect towards increased enforcement against companies, including for misconduct overseas.

They are also consistent with the trend internationally towards increased multi-jurisdictional and extra-territorial cooperation and enforcement by authorities, not only in the foreign bribery area, but also with respect to anti-money laundering and economic sanctions efforts.

Indeed, increased information sharing is likely to see increased investigations activity as enforcement authorities cooperate more in connection with overseas conduct. The UK is laying the groundwork for enhancing potential cross-border cooperation in sanctions enforcement with its international partners.

The new on-shored implementing regulations expand the bases for disclosure to third parties, and specifically permit disclosure to:

  • "Any other regulatory body (whether or not in the United Kingdom)".

This language very likely enables disclosure of information to OFAC, and needs to be read in conjunction with OFSI guidance where OFSI has made it clear that it will use its information sharing powers[3].

This raises the real possibility that sanctions breaches taking place overseas – a scenario arguably applicable to many, if not most breaches – will be made known to local and international authorities and could result in increased multi-jurisdictional investigations and consequent enforcement actions (including substantial fines).

Given these developments, multi-national businesses – the financial services industry in particular – should be aware of the increased potential for sanctions enforcement and will need to assess carefully how to address compliance with multiple sanctions regimes across their global organisations.

[1] According to OFSI, there may be a “UK nexus” in connection with a transaction involving an overseas business in situations such as where the business carries out transactions using currency clearing services in the UK (for example, denominated in Pounds Sterling), it is a subsidiary of a UK company, its decision-making is directed from within the UK, or it holds or uses financial products or insurance bought on UK markets.

[2] The Act gives the power for the Treasury to impose a monetary penalty on “a person” that has breached a financial sanction or knew or had reasonable cause to suspect that a breach was being committed. - this includes both a legal person and a natural person - if it is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the person (a) has breached a financial sanction and, (b) knew, or had reasonable cause to suspect, that a breach was being committed. Actions against both foreign businesses and UK nationals working abroad is are therefore, possible.

[3] “If we come across breaches of financial sanctions in another jurisdiction, we may use our information-sharing powers to pass details to relevant authorities…



The Team

Meet the team of industry experts behind Comsure

Find out more

Latest News

Keep up to date with the very latest news from Comsure

Find out more


View our latest imagery from our news and work

Find out more


Think we can help you and your business? Chat to us today

Get In Touch

News Disclaimer

As well as owning and publishing Comsure's copyrighted works, Comsure wishes to use the copyright-protected works of others. To do so, Comsure is applying for exemptions in the UK copyright law. There are certain very specific situations where Comsure is permitted to do so without seeking permission from the owner. These exemptions are in the copyright sections of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (as amended)[]. Many situations allow for Comsure to apply for exemptions. These include 1] Non-commercial research and private study, 2] Criticism, review and reporting of current events, 3] the copying of works in any medium as long as the use is to illustrate a point. 4] no posting is for commercial purposes [payment]. (for a full list of exemptions, please read here]. Concerning the exceptions, Comsure will acknowledge the work of the source author by providing a link to the source material. Comsure claims no ownership of non-Comsure content. The non-Comsure articles posted on the Comsure website are deemed important, relevant, and newsworthy to a Comsure audience (e.g. regulated financial services and professional firms [DNFSBs]). Comsure does not wish to take any credit for the publication, and the publication can be read in full in its original form if you click the articles link that always accompanies the news item. Also, Comsure does not seek any payment for highlighting these important articles. If you want any article removed, Comsure will automatically do so on a reasonable request if you email