Tonight, the CW's long running drama on the secret lives of New York's Upper East Siders, Gossip Girl, will air its final episode. Over its six seasons on the air, the cult favorite, which New York Magazine fondly dubbed the "Greatest Show of Our Time" has never shied away from controversy. Last season, ruthless billionaire Bart Bass came back from the dead. This season, we learned that he went underground to avoid FBI prosecution for violating United States government sanctions prohibiting oil trade with the Sudan. Although his son Chuck has spent millions of dollars and countless hours trying to find the evidence to link Bart to his illegal oil dealings, he was unsuccessful. In the end, he needed his on-again-off-again girlfriend Blair to help him scheme one of her infamous "takedowns" to find the proof necessary to confront his family about his father's checkered past.
Although some of Gossip Girl's plot lines may seem far fetched, this one is "realer than Humphreys wanting to be Basses." For the past 15 years, the United States has maintained the strictest sanctions in the world on the government of Sudan. On November 1, 2012, President Obama renewed those sanctions, affirming that the Sudanese government's violations of the human rights of its own people is a vital reason to continue restricting U.S. trade with them, particularly since the lucrative state-owned oil funds Khartoum's wars in the country's periphery. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, implements these sanctions, barring American citizens and businesses from having any dealings with Sudan’s oil industry without a license. Under U.S. sanctions laws, banks that conceal information about illegal transactions are also subject to prosecution. In fact, in June 2012, the ING agreed to pay a $619 million fine following the OFAC's investigation into their intentional manipulation and deletion of information about U.S.-sanctioned parties in more than 20,000 financial and trade transactions routed through third-party banks located in the United States between 2002 and 2007.
In Gossip Girl, Bart Bass was able to escape prosecution because damning evidence of his shady financial dealings was hidden away in the back of a multi-million dollar piece of art. In real life, U.S. sanctions measures are only as good as their enforcement, which is dependent on the information available to OFAC. American law enforcement officials and the intelligence community work together to track and block illegal transactions. In the one year period between May 2007 and May 2008, the OFAC blocked 65 transactions totaling over $1,117,000, and U.S. banks rejected 576 transactions involving Sudan, resulting in a disruption of at least $133.2 million in business for the government. Still much more can and should be done. Prioritizing the collection of intelligence relating to these kinds of transactions is essential to weakening Bashir's power base.
Since U.S. sanctions against Sudan are already quite extensive, developing stronger multilateral sanctions and an enforcement framework offers the best prospects for increasing impact on the government of the Sudan's actions in the future. Multilateral cooperation with U.S. allies could augment the pressure that sanctions are putting on the government of Sudan and bring about change in Khartoum.
While watching tonight's episode, ask Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester to help us take action on this important issue.
Tweet: Pls RT @itsmeleighton: Ask @NewYorkFBI to help @USTreasury enforce #Sudan sanctions. http://bit.ly/E