- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

An international food company is pushing ahead with a legal challenge questioning how the Treasury Department decides whether companies can do businesses in Iran.

For the second time in 13 months, Fresh Del Monte Produce filed a federal lawsuit in November criticizing the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, over delays in license applications.

The federal office is charged with regulating food and medical shipments into countries found to be state sponsors of terrorism.

The Florida-based food company claimed the Treasury Department “unlawfully” prevented it from shipping food to unnamed customers in Iran.

Though the company won a license within days of the lawsuit, Fresh Del Monte still wants a judge to hear the case, according to recent filings in federal court in the District.

“After issuing the most recent license, the government now claims that the parties’ controversy has ended and the court should dismiss the case, allowing OFAC to go back to its old ways,” Daniel Jarcho, an attorney for Fresh Del Monte, wrote in a court pleading last Friday.

“The law does not condone this kind of cat-and-mouse scenario,” he argued.

He also said the licensing review shouldn’t take more than two weeks under federal rules if the State and Treasury departments do not raise concerns about the proposed export arrangement.

The Treasury Department has previously declined to comment on the dispute. Treasury spokesman Andrew DeSouza said officials do not discuss individual licensing applications or discuss lawsuits.

In court papers, Justice Department attorneys say they want the case thrown out now that the company won its license.

Despite an embargo banning U.S. companies from doing business in Iran, federal law doesn’t prohibit sending food and medical supplies if companies are licensed by the Treasury Department.

The U.S. embargo was enacted because Iran has been declared a state sponsor of terrorism.

Food and medical shipments still can be banned if the proposed recipient is listed as a terrorist organization or if another government agency objects to the application on antiterrorism grounds, according to federal rules.

OFAC’s director, Andrew J. Szubin, published a special notice in the Federal Register last year in which he said the office’s “expedited licensing process” often isn’t feasible.

Citing the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Szubin said heighten concern about terrorism has prompted more scrutiny of licensing applications.

He also said officials need more time because applications are lengthier and regulators have to investigate whether the proposed exports can be used in making chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.

According to its most recent quarterly report, OFAC said it received and issued more than 200 export license applications and amendments during the first three months last year.

During the previous three months, the office issued 168 licenses and amendments for exports to Iran, mostly for agricultural products.

The office also said it took an average of more than two months to decide whether to clear license applications.

The lawsuit stems from purported delays after Fresh Del Monte says it filed an application last August seeking permission for three company affiliates to ship 91 food products to 10 customers in Iran. The specific types of products and identities of the customers were not named in the complaint.

The company said the 10 customers it planned to do business with in Iran did not appear on either the “foreign terrorist organizations” or “specifically designated terrorists” lists used by federal officials to screen applications for selling export goods to Iran.

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