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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

UAE bank fined $100 million for Sudanese sanctions violations

Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Department of Treasury NYDFS OFAC Sanctions Sudan Enforcement Bank Regulatory Federal Reserve State Issues

Financial Crimes

On November 9, NYDFS announced that a United Arab Emirates bank will pay a $100 million penalty to resolve an investigation into payments it allegedly processed through financial institutions in the state, including one of the bank’s New York branches. These transactions, NYDFS stated, were in violation of Sudan-related U.S. sanctions. According to NYDFS’ investigation, the bank instructed employees to avoid including certain details in messages sent between banks that would have linked the transactions to Sudan. By concealing these details, the transactions bypassed other banks’ sanctions filters, which otherwise might have triggered alerts or transaction freezes, NYDFS said. As a result, between 2005 and 2009, the bank illegally processed more than $4 billion of payments tied to Sudan. Following an announcement in 2009 that a Swiss bank used by the bank to process these transactions was being investigated by the New York County District Attorney’s Office for violating economic sanctions rules, the bank closed all U.S. dollar accounts held by Sudanese banks, but failed to disclose the prohibited transactions to NYDFS as required until 2015. NYDFS asserted that “despite having ample notice of the prohibited nature of the Sudan-related [transactions] by 2009,” the bank’s New York branch processed an additional $2.5 million in Sudan-related payments. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank—which was previously cited by NYDFS for anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance deficiencies in a 2018 consent order that included a $40 million fine—is also required to provide a status report on its U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) compliance program, in addition to paying the $100 million penalty. NYDFS acknowledged the bank’s substantial cooperation and ongoing remedial efforts.

NYDFS coordinated its investigation with the Federal Reserve Board and OFAC, both of which announced separate settlements with the UAE bank the same day. The Fed’s announcement of its order to cease and desist cites the bank for having insufficient policies and procedures in place to ensure that activities involving branches outside the U.S. were in compliance with U.S. sanctions laws. Under the terms of the order, the bank is required, among other things, to implement an enhanced compliance program to ensure global compliance with U.S. sanctions, and must also conduct annual reviews, including a “risk-focused sampling” of its U.S. dollar payments, led by an independent external party. The order did not include any additional monetary penalties for the bank.

OFAC also issued a finding of violation (FOV) for violations of the now-repealed Sudanese Sanctions Regulations related to the bank’s actions. These violations included 1,760 transactions that involved USD transfers from Sudanese banks that were processed by the bank’s London branch and routed through U.S. banks. In determining that the appropriate administrative action was an FOV rather than a civil monetary penalty, OFAC stated the bank “voluntarily entered into a retroactive statute of limitations waiver agreement, without which OFAC would have been time-barred from charging the violations.” Because the payment messages did not include the originating Sudanese bank, U.S. correspondent banking partners “could not interdict the payments, and the payments were successfully processed through the U.S. financial system,” OFAC stated. However, OFAC credited the bank with providing substantial cooperation during the investigation, and noted that the bank had taken “extensive remediation” efforts before the investigation began in 2015, and has spent more than $122 million on compliance enhancements.

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