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On June 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13851 against four individuals connected to the Ortega regime. According to the announcements, the Ortega regime has undermined democracy, abused civilians’ human rights, implemented corrupt laws with negative economic results, and attempted to censor the independent news media. OFAC Director Andrea M. Gacki, stated that the Ortega regime “intends to continue its suppression of the Nicaraguan people,” and “[t]he United States will continue to expose those officials who continue to ignore the will of its citizens.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individual, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more” by the individual that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s announcement further noted that OFAC regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with designated persons.
President Biden issues executive order blocking U.S. entry by some persons connected to the Western Balkans
On June 8, President Biden issued an Executive Order (E.O.) on “Blocking Property And Suspending Entry Into The United States Of Certain Persons Contributing To The Destabilizing Situation In The Western Balkans.” According to the E.O., expanding the scope will address the national emergency declared in E.O. 13219, “including the undermining of post-war agreements and institutions following the breakup of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as widespread corruption within various governments and institutions in the Western Balkans, stymies progress toward effective and democratic governance and full integration into transatlantic institutions, and thereby constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” The E.O blocks property and interests in property that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of certain persons who meet one or more of the criteria set forth in the order, including those who are determined, among other things: (i) “to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, stability, or territorial integrity of any area or state in the Western Balkans”; (ii) “to be responsible for or complicit in, or to have directly or indirectly engaged in, actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the Western Balkans”; or (iii) “to have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to this order.” Additionally, the Treasury Secretary is authorized to take actions, including promulgating rules and regulations, to carry out the purposes of the E.O.
President Biden issues executive order prohibiting securities investments in Chinese military companies
On June 3, President Biden issued an Executive Order (E.O.) on “Addressing the Threat from Securities Investments that Finance Communist Chinese Military Companies.” The E.O. takes additional steps pursuant to the national emergency declared pursuant to E.O. 13959 (covered by Infobytes here), including the threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and “its involvement in military, intelligence, and security research and development programs, and weapons and related equipment production under the PRC’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy.” The E.O. generally prohibits U.S. persons from “the purchase or sale of any publicly traded securities, or any securities that are derivative of such securities, or are designed to provide investment exposure to such securities, of” any listed Chinese military company. The E.O. also establishes the deadlines for divestment of investments in companies currently listed as Chinese military companies as well as companies that later may be added to the list of Chinese military.
Among other things, the prohibitions apply “except to the extent provided by statutes, or in regulations, orders, directives, or licenses that may be issued pursuant to this order, and not withstanding any contract entered into or any license or permit granted before the date of the order.” The E.O. also prohibits any transactions by U.S. persons or within the U.S. that evade or avoid, have the purpose of evading or avoiding, cause a violation of, or attempt to violate the provisions set forth in the order, as well as any conspiracy to violate any of these prohibitions. Additionally, the Treasury Secretary—after consulting with heads of other executive departments as deemed appropriate—is authorized to take actions, including promulgating rules and regulations, to carry out the purposes of the E.O.
OFAC also published eight new FAQs and seven updated FAQs regarding the new E.O. In addition, several names and entities have been added to OFAC’s Non-SDN Chinese Military-Industrial Complex Companies List.
On June 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against three individuals for their extensive roles in corruption in Bulgaria and their networks, which encompasses 64 entities. According to the announcement, this is the single largest action targeting corruption to date. Andrea Gacki, Director of OFAC, noted that the U.S. joins Bulgarians in “promoting accountability for corrupt officials who undermine the economic functions and democratic institutions.” Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” The sanctions also generally prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons.
On June 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued Venezuela-related General License (GL) 8H, which authorizes transactions involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) necessary for the limited maintenance of essential operations in Venezuela or the wind down of operations in Venezuela for certain entities that would otherwise be prohibited by Executive Order 13850, as incorporated into the Venezuela Sanctions Regulations. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Effective June 1, GL 8H replaces GL 8G, which was issued November 2020.
On May 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued the Burma Sanctions Regulations to implement Executive Order (E.O.) 14014, “Blocking Property with Respect to the Situation in Burma.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, President Biden issued E.O. 14014 in February granting OFAC the authority to target any person determined to have operated in the defense sector of the Burmese economy, or any other sector of the economy as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury. Among other things, the Burma Sanctions Regulations provide guidance on (i) prohibited transactions; (ii) general definitions; (iii) interpretations; (iv) licenses and authorizations; (v); reports; (vi) penalties and findings of violations; and (vii) procedures and the delegation of certain authorities to the Treasury secretary. OFAC noted that while the regulations have been published in an abbreviated form to provide “immediate guidance to the public,” it intends to provide a more comprehensive set of regulations in the future that “may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance, general licenses, and other regulatory provisions.”
On May 27, the DOJ announced it had entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement with a Swiss bank charged with conspiring to commit money laundering, in which the bank agreed to pay more than $79 million after admitting that it “conspired to launder over $36 million in bribes through the United States to soccer officials” in exchange for broadcasting rights to international soccer matches. According to the DOJ, between February 2013 and May 2015, the bank, through a former bank relationship manager (who pleaded guilty in June 2017 for his role in the scheme and was sentenced last November), conspired with sports marketing executives to launder at least $36 million in bribes through the U.S. in order to “conceal the true nature of the payments and promote the fraud.” During this period, the DOJ claimed the bank’s anti-money laundering (AML) controls “failed to detect or prevent money laundering transactions related to the bribery schemes,” and that had the former bank relationship manager’s supervisors or compliance personnel conducted meaningful due diligence they would have been alerted to “multiple, significant red flags, including facially false contracts, payments to third parties at the direction of a [soccer federation] official, and services purportedly rendered by shell corporations—all of which would have alerted the [b]ank to the bribery, money laundering or other illegal activity.” The DOJ further noted that the bank admitted it was aware that the former bank relationship manager’s clients’ accounts were associated with international soccer—an area “generally understood to involve high corruption risks”—but still directed these accounts to be fast tracked in the hopes of obtaining lucrative business.
The terms outlined in the deferred prosecution agreement are based on several factors, the DOJ stated, including the bank’s prior criminal history and the fact that the bank failed to voluntarily disclose the conduct and played a critical rule in the scheme for more than two years. The DOJ further noted that the bank did not receive any cooperation credit because it made misleading representations about relevant facts in the case, which hindered the investigation, and failed to provide all evidence pertaining to the involvement of senior management. However, the bank did receive some credit for making significant efforts to remediate its compliance program and spent $112 million on a three-year AML initiative designed to upgrade all accounts held by the bank, not just high-risk accounts. Under the terms of the agreement, the bank will pay a fine of roughly $43.3 million and forfeit approximately $36.4 million.
On May 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) removed FAQ 880 from its website and published a new FAQ 896 pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13959, “Addressing the Threat From Securities Investments That Finance Communist Chinese Military Companies.” FAQ 880 previously stated that, following a court order preliminarily enjoining the implementation of E.O. 13959 against a previously sanctioned company, the prohibitions are no longer applicable pending further order of the court (covered by InfoBytes here). FAQ 896 clarifies that the prohibitions in E.O. 13959 do not apply with respect to the specific company identified in the FAQ.
On May 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the release of a joint statement by the Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG) of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which coordinates efforts to isolate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the international financial system and eliminate revenue sources. The CIFG held its fourteenth meeting on May 17 to discuss ongoing efforts to combat ISIS financing worldwide, which coincided with sanctions against three individuals and one entity connected to ISIS for allegedly helping ISIS access the financial system in the Middle East through a network of international donors (covered by InfoBytes here).
Among other things, the statement highlighted ISIS’s “reliance on regional money services businesses (MSBs) to transfer funds internationally,” its focus on funding “the release of its detained operatives and family members, and its extortion and looting of Syrian and Iraqi populations.” CIFG members and observers also noted the significance of “information-sharing, increased oversight over financial institutions, and coordinated disruptive actions to deter ISIS financial supporters from accessing the regional financial system.” CIFG members and observers were also briefed on ISIS supporters’ abuse of the charitable sector and madrassa networks in Asia, in addition to “discussions on how ISIS branches and networks in Africa utilize informal funds transfer mechanisms and participate in looting to support their extremist affairs.” Delegates also “presented case studies on security operations against Europe-based ISIS supporters who raise and transfer funds online, in some cases via virtual currencies.” The statement concludes: “The work of the CIFG is critical to the global fight to defeat ISIS in all corners of the world and we will continue to engage global partners to deprive ISIS of its sources of revenue and prevent it from accessing the international financial system. We will continue learning from each other’s successes and challenges, and empowering partners in the most vulnerable jurisdictions to strengthen their anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism regimes.”
On May 26, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced it will host a special Innovations Hours Program in September “focusing on the important role of privacy-preserving principles in developing technical solutions that enhance financial services innovation while countering illicit activity and national security risks that undermine the integrity and opportunity of the U.S. financial system.” Fintech and regulatory technology (regtech) companies, venture capital firms, and financial institutions interested in providing a demonstration should highlight how their innovative solutions work and how these solutions “may support private- and public-sector efforts to enhance financial integrity, while protecting national security and personal privacy.” Interested companies should submit requests here no later than July 23. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Innovation Hours Program was announced in 2019 to provide opportunities for fintech/regtech companies and financial institutions to showcase new and emerging approaches to combating money laundering and terrorist financing and to demonstrate how financial institutions could use such technologies.