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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

OFAC issues Syria-related settlement with French bank for $8.5 million

Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions Syria Of Interest to Non-US Persons Settlement OFAC Designations

Financial Crimes

On January 4, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced an over $8.5 million settlement with a French bank that facilitates trade finance between Europe and the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia for 127 apparent violations of Syria-related sanctions. The 127 apparent violations include: (i) 114 internal transfers on behalf of Syrian entities totaling over $1 billion, with 45 of the transfers processed between two clients, one being a sanctioned Syrian entity and 69 of the transfers conducted as a foreign exchange transaction with a sanctioned Syrian customer; and (ii) 13 “back-to-back” letter of credit transactions or other trade finance transactions involving sanctioned Syrian parties, processed through a U.S. bank.

In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that management had “actual knowledge” of the conduct, and that the bank “conferred substantial economic benefit to U.S.-sanctioned parties,” causing “significant harm to the integrity of U.S. sanctions programs and their associated policy objectives.”

OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including (i) the majority of the violations occurred in late 2011, after an August 2011 Executive Order significantly expanded U.S. sanctions against Syria; (ii) the bank voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations and cooperated with the investigations; and (iii) had a compliance program in place at the time of the apparent violations.

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