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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Korean bank settles investigation into Iran transfers; resolves BSA/AML violations allegations

Financial Crimes DOJ State Attorney General NYDFS OFAC Department of Treasury Settlement Of Interest to Non-US Persons Korea Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act

Financial Crimes

On April 20, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the New York attorney general announced that a Korean bank will pay $51 million in penalties to resolve a six-year investigation into the bank’s transfer of more than $1 billion to Iranian entities in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. According to the U.S. Attorney’s press release and deferred prosecution agreement and statement of facts (as well as a press release from the state attorney general), the bank violated the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) by “willfully failing to establish, implement, and maintain an adequate anti-money laundering (‘AML’) program” at its New York branch—even though its compliance officer repeatedly asked it to do so—which led to the illegal transfer of approximately $1 billion in transactions to Iran in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. According to the government, the bank’s lack of an effective AML program resulted in its failure to detect and report $10 million in payments through the bank and other U.S. financial institutions from Korean entities to Iranian entities, as well as its failure to “report the balance of the $1 billion of such sanctioned transactions” between the parties. Furthermore, the bank also failed to self-report to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control its wrongdoing in a timely manner or its willful violations of the BSA prior to the investigation. Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, the bank will pay $51 million through a civil forfeiture action, half of which will go to the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund, and will undergo regular reviews of its AML and sanctions compliance programs.

The bank also reached a separate agreement with NYDFS for violating state regulations, under which it will pay an additional $35 million penalty for violations of BSA/AML laws. Among other things, NYDFS found that the compliance program of the bank’s New York branch failed to achieve satisfactory levels until its 2019 examination. “While the department applauds the bank for its ultimate efforts after eight examination cycles of noncompliance, one positive examination report does not equate to a sustainable, safe and sound financial institution,” NYDFS said in its consent order. Under the terms of the order, the bank is required to revise its BSA/AML compliance program and enhance its customer due diligence program to ensure compliance with relevant state laws and regulations. NYDFS acknowledged the bank’s substantial cooperation in the matter, including remediating identified shortcomings.

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