OFAC settles with bank for alleged NKSR and Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations violations
On December 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $115,005 settlement of two cases with a Delaware-based bank for allegedly processing transactions in violation of the North Korea Sanctions Regulations (NKSR) and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, in the first matter, between December 2016 and August 2018, the bank processed 1,479 transactions totaling $382,685, and maintained nine accounts on behalf of five employees of the North Korean Mission to the United Nations without a license from OFAC. Additionally, the bank allegedly often misidentified North Korea or did not properly complete the citizenship field in the customer profiles, which resulted in failing to flag the accounts. The web notice explained that “[u]nder the [NKSR], a general license authorizing certain transactions with the North Korean Mission to the United Nations specifies that it does not authorize U.S. financial institutions to open and operate accounts for employees of the North Korean mission. It further specifies that U.S. financial institutions are required to obtain OFAC specific licenses to operate accounts for such persons.” According to the web notice, since the bank did not obtain a specific license to offer these services, its conduct resulted in apparent violations.
In arriving at the settlement amount of $105,238, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) failed to use due caution or care in processing the 1,479 transactions, which was in violation of the NKSR for over a year; (ii) “had reason to know that it maintained accounts for North Korean nationals because at account opening, the account holders of all nine accounts presented to [the bank] North Korean passports”; and (iii) “is a large and commercially sophisticated financial institution with a global presence.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) “enhanced its controls for identifying government officials of sanctioned countries”; and (ii) “updated its operating procedures to specify that reviews of customers in or affiliated with sanctioned jurisdictions must be escalated.”
In the second matter, according to the web notice, the bank allegedly maintained accounts for a U.S. resident who was on OFAC’s SDN List. The bank did not block the account and disclose to OFAC until after the fifth high-confidence sanctions screening alert was generated because the previous alerts had a “match on full name DOB and geographical location.” The bank’s fraud unit, unaware of the sanctions-related reason for account closure, then credited one of the individual’s accounts, which caused it to be re-opened. The notice reported that the failure to correctly identify the individual as a person on the SDN List was the result of human error and a breakdown in the bank’s sanctions compliance procedures. Further, “[i]n addition to incorrectly dispositioning these alerts, [the bank’s] analysts contravened [the bank’s] procedures which require alerts to be escalated if a match occurs in first and last name and any additional information field.” Such conduct resulted in 145 apparent violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations.
In arriving at the settlement amount of $9,766, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) “failed to exercise due caution or care for U.S. economic sanctions requirements by incorrectly adjudicating high-confidence sanctions screening alerts four times over four years, despite full date-of-birth and first and last name matches”; (ii) permitted $35,514.13 in transactions by an individual on the SDN List; and (iii) “is a large and sophisticated financial institution with a global presence.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the bank did not appear to have had actual knowledge of the conduct that led to the apparent violations, and represented that it has terminated this conduct and has undertaken remedial measures.