Exxon Says "Egregious" Sanctions Violations Were Just a Misunderstanding

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left arrives in the prime minister's official residence to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo Japan Thursday

"It's time Rex Tillerson step down or be removed", said Gigi Kellett of Corporate Accountability International, following an announcement on Thursday that ExxonMobil will pay $2 million for violating USA sanctions against Russian officials while the now-secretary of state was the company's CEO.

Exxon signed documents in May 2014 with Igor Sechin, the president of Russian oil giant Rosneft and another, unnamed person, it said.

The Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) "determined that ExxonMobil did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, and that the violations constitute an egregious case", the statement reads. Sechin was sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2014 after Russian Federation deployed its military in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

In May 2014, Exxon's chief executive was Rex Tillerson, now U.S. Secretary of State.

A statement released by the government says that Exxon showed "reckless disregard" and that the most senior individuals at the company were aware of the sanctions when they conducted business with Russian businessmen. "OFAC's action is fundamentally unfair", Exxon said.

ExxonMobil said the decision was "fundamentally unfair", and sued the US government in Texas in an effort to overturn the decision.

OFAC said it had considered and rejected Exxon's explanation that it had believed from press accounts of the sanctions that there was a distinction between Sechin acting in a "professional" rather than a "personal" capacity.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in March 2014 targeting those involved in an escalating conflict along the Russia-Ukraine border, including Russia's annexation of Crimea. The company pointed out that a Treasury Department spokesman had even said it would be permissible for an American CEO to attend a Rosneft board meeting with Sechin as long as it wasn't related to Sechin's "personal business".

Sechin was at the helm of Rosneft in 2011 when Exxon signed a massive joint venture with the Russian oil company to drill for oil in the Arctic.

The same month that Exxon signed the deals, Tillerson said the company generally opposes sanctions and finds them "ineffective".

Concerns about Tillerson's potential conflict of interest dominated his confirmation hearings in January, and the secretary has recused himself from matters dealing with his former company. The State Department declined to comment on Tillerson's role, referring all questions to Exxon.

Mr. Tillerson, who has deep ties to Russian Federation and received an Order of Friendship from Moscow, left the firm to become U.S. Secretary of State.

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