Great Western will pay $1.35 million over Cuba trade sanctions

Settlement is less than a quarter of 'base penalty' for violations

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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Great Western Malting penalties

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Great Western Malting Co. — the Vancouver-based maker and seller of beer malt — has found out what happens when you breach rules that signify the U.S. government's decades-long distaste for Cuba.

The company has agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle apparent violations of federal trade sanctions against the island nation 90 miles south of Key West, Fla., according to the agency of the U.S. Treasury Department that enforces those sanctions.

Great Western, a tenant of the Port of Vancouver, could have been fined nearly $6 million. That was the "base penalty amount" for what the Office of Foreign Assets Control says is Great Western's violation -- handling the back-office functions for a foreign affiliate that sold non-U.S. barley malt to Cuba.

The case was settled for $1.35 million because Great Western has no prior sanctions violations, it "substantially cooperated" with investigators, and the malt would have been eligible for a government license if it had been shipped from the United States, the agency said in its July 10 report.

Jay Hamacheck, Vancouver-based director of compliance and corporate social responsibility for GrainCorp — the Sydney, Australia-based parent of Great Western — declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

Instead, he referred The Columbian to Angus Trigg, director of government and media relations for GrainCorp in Sydney. In statements he emailed to The Columbian, Trigg said Great Western and federal authorities "have agreed to a confidential settlement" and that the $1.35 million is "a settlement amount, not technically a fine."

The Office of Foreign Assets Control said a number of Great Western's violations, which occurred between August 2006 and March 2009, involved people in Cuba and a Cuban ship. In its report, the agency does not identify the foreign affiliate of Great Western. It also does not identify the people in Cuba — a country slightly smaller than Pennsylvania -- or the vessel.

A spokesman for the agency, John Sullivan, declined to comment Tuesday, saying in an email that "the company may be able to give you more details."

The U.S. government's action against Great Western came under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which were issued July 8, 1963, under the "Trading With the Enemy Act in response to certain hostile actions by the Cuban Government," according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

Criminal penalties for violating the regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1 million in corporate fines and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed.

So far this year, the Office of Foreign Assets Control has levied $622.98 million in penalties.

The largest came in June when the agency fined ING Bank in the Netherlands $619 million for processing "20,452 wire transfers, trade finance transactions, or travelers checks" involving Cuba.

Aaron Corvin: 360-735-4518; http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.