Italian Restaurant Accidentally Faced U.S. Sanctions After Being Mistaken for Oil Trafficker
There are bad Mondays, there are really bad Mondays, and then there's the Monday that Alessandro Bazzoni had earlier this year. The 45-year-old, who owns a restaurant and pizzeria in Verona, Italy, got a call from his banker who told him that there were "more than a few problems" with his three accounts.
According to La Repubblica, Bazzoni abandoned the risotto he'd been preparing, and went immediately to the bank, Banca Popolare dell'Emilia Romagna, where he learned that all of his accounts had been blocked by the U.S. government. "I asked them if they were making fun of me but nobody laughed," he said. "And in fact there was really nothing to laugh about."
Apparently on the last day of Donald Trump's presidency, the U.S. Treasury put sanctions on three individuals and more than a dozen businesses that had "ties to a network attempting to evade United States sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector," and that were connected to Petróleos de Venezuela (PdVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company.
"Bazzoni [...] is a core facilitator of the network, connecting Elemento and Swissoil with PdVSA and Saab. Bazzoni, an Italian citizen, has been instrumental in coordinating the purchase and sale of Venezuelan-origin crude oil from PdVSA," the Treasury wrote. "Bazzoni was designated today for operating in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy and because he has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, PdVSA."
But instead of blacklisting that Bazzoni's company, the government accidentally blocked the restaurateur instead. "At the end of the Trump administration they were doing a lot really, really fast with respect to Venezuela, Iran and China," Tim O'Toole, a sanctions specialist at law firm Miller & Chevalier, told Reuters. "When you move that fast, you tend to make mistakes."
The pizza-making Bazzoni said that "any amount" that went into his bank account was subject to verification, his outgoing transfers were blocked, and when he tried to move some money onto a prepaid card, that transaction was stopped too. "I got in touch with the U.S. Treasury Department, I sent them all my documents: identity card, passport, VAT number and my company's certificate of incorporation," he told La Reppublica.
"I tried to prove that I had nothing to do with the man from Lugano." (That guy—the one the sanctions were meant for—also caused some family drama for Bazzoni. "My 12-year-old son saw my name associated with $32 million on the internet and said, 'Do we really have all that money? So why do you always say no when I ask you to buy me something?'" he told the outlet.)
Regardless, last week, the Treasury finally figured out what had happened, and removed the sanctions from Bazzoni and his restaurant, and Reuters reports that they also removed accidental sanctions from "what appears to be a graphic design company" elsewhere in Italy.
Although Bazzoni said there was no apology for the mixup, at least he had a better Monday this week.