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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

Payment processing solutions company settles multiple sanctions violations with OFAC for $500k

Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Cryptocurrency Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations Enforcement Settlement

Financial Crimes

On February 18, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with a Georgia-based payment processing solutions company for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, between 2013 and 2018, the company—which offers solutions for merchants to accept digital currency as payment for goods and services—allegedly processed thousands of transactions on behalf of individuals located in sanctioned jurisdictions based on IP addresses and invoice information. Specifically, OFAC alleged that the company “received digital currency payments on behalf of its merchant customers from those merchants’ buyers who were located in sanctioned jurisdictions, converted the digital currency to fiat currency, and then related that currency to its merchants.” While OFAC noted that the company screened its direct merchants against its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons and conducted due diligence to ensure merchants were not located in a sanctioned jurisdiction, the company’s transaction review process allegedly failed to screen identification and location data for its merchants’ buyers, many of whom were located in Crimea, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. As a result, these buyers, OFAC claimed, were able to make purchases from merchants located in the U.S. and elsewhere using digital currency on the company’s platform in violation of an executive order and multiple sanctions regulations.

In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) “failed to exercise due caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations” by allowing buyers in sanctioned jurisdictions to transact with merchants despite having “sufficient information to screen those customers”; and (ii) conveyed more than $128,000 in economic benefit to individuals in OFAC sanctioned jurisdictions.

OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) had implemented certain sanctions compliance controls, including due diligence and sanctions screening; (ii) trained employees—including senior management—that signing up merchants from sanctioned jurisdictions or trading with sanctioned persons is prohibited; (iii) cooperated with OFAC’s investigation; and (iv) terminated the conduct leading to the apparent violations and undertook remedial measures to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future. The base civil monetary penalty applicable in this action is $2,255,000; however, the lower settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the general factors under the Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines.

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