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Italian restaurant owner wrongly targeted by US sanctions

 Italian restaurant

One of Donald Trump's last sanctions before he left office was mistakenly on a restaurant owner in Verona, Italy.

The error happened as part of the Trump administration's crackdown on blacklisted Venezuelan crude oil.

In a case of mistaken identity, restaurant owner Alessandro Bazzoni found himself on the US Treasury's blacklist in January, but was this week finally taken off.

Legal experts say this type of mistake happens regularly and can be costly.

In 2019, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on Venezuelan state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) as part of its strategy to force the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro.

Mr Maduro was accused of corruption, human rights violations, and rigging his 2018 re-election.

In its last full day in office in January this year, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on a different Alessandro Bazzoni over accusations he was tied to a network attempting to evade sanctions on Venezuela's oil sector.

The US Treasury also slapped sanctions on a number of companies it said were tied to Bazzoni, catching the Italian restaurant owner in its net.

Months later, the mistake was spotted and restaurant owner has now been removed.

Speaking from his restaurant in Verona, Mr Bazzoni told Reuters news agency it was a mistake and that he was thankful he was no longer involved.

Mistaken identity

Sanctions are punishments a country (or group of countries) imposes on another country or specific companies.

For example, the US bans American companies in certain industries from exporting their goods to Iraq.

The consequences of being put on a US sanctions list can be devastating for individuals and companies, given America is the world's biggest economy and a superpower.

Experts say there are many cases that happen behind the scenes, where banks are told to freeze payments of individuals and companies that are wrongly targeted in US government investigations.

"Often the targets are completely innocent, but the impact to their business can be devastating. It can take months to sort it out at great expense," Nicholas Turner, a lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson in Hong Kong, told the BBC.

"We expect the US government to have access to superior information about the people it targets, but that is not always the case.

"Sometimes, the government is using information that anyone can find online. If that information hasn't been properly verified, it's easy for mistakes to happen."

Chinese tech giant

In January, Donald Trump also imposed new sanctions on Chinese technology companies during his last days of office, including phone maker Xiaomi.

He claimed the Chinese firms he targeted were tied to its military or shared data with the government.

Last month, Xiaomi was granted a preliminary injunction against some of these US sanctions because a court found there was insufficient evidence to support claims it was affiliated with China's military.

"If these mistakes can happen with a company as big as Xiaomi, it's no wonder that smaller players find themselves in this situation. Unfortunately they might not have the resources of Xiaomi to fight it," added Mr Turner.

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