OFAC and FinCEN target synthetic opioids
On August 21, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced coordinated actions related to the manufacturing, selling, or distribution of synthetic opioids or their precursor chemicals. OFAC identified two Chinese nationals, a trafficking organization, and a related entity as “significant foreign narcotics traffickers” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, for running “an international drug trafficking operation that manufactures and sells lethal narcotics, directly contributing to the crisis of opioid addiction, overdoses, and death in the United States.” OFAC notes that, in August 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio unsealed an indictment, which charged one of the Chinese nationals and his father with operating a conspiracy that allegedly manufactured and shipped deadly fentanyl analogues, cathinones, and cannabinoids to at least 37 U.S. states. Additionally, in September 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi indicted another significant foreign narcotics trafficker on two counts of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute multiple controlled substances, including fentanyl, and seven counts of manufacturing and distributing the drugs in specific instances. As a result of the sanctions designation, “all property and interests in property of these individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.”
Additionally, FinCEN released an advisory alerting financial institutions to financial schemes related to the trafficking of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. The advisory provides detailed explanations of the funding mechanisms associated with fentanyl trafficking patterns, including (i) purchases from a foreign source of supply made using money services businesses (MSBs), bank transfers, or online payment processors; (ii) purchases from a foreign source of supply made using convertible virtual currency (CVC); (iii) purchases from a U.S. source of supply made using a MSB, online payment processor, CVC, or person-to-person sales; and (iv) more general money laundering mechanisms associated with procurement and distribution. The advisory also provides a list of red flags financial institutions should be aware of that may assist in identifying suspected schemes related to illicit fentanyl trafficking. Lastly, the advisory reminds financial institutions of their regulatory obligations to combat illicit financing and anti-money laundering, such as due diligence obligations, customer identification, and suspicious activity reporting.