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On June 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 14024, against seven leading members of a Russian intelligence-linked group and an entity connected to one of these individuals, for their role in “the destabilization campaign and continued malign influence campaigns in Moldova.” OFAC previously sanctioned individuals and entities endeavoring in similar efforts to undermine Moldova’s democracy, (covered by InfoBytes here). OFAC also mentioned in the announcement that the EU sanctioned Russian and Moldovan individuals for the same crimes. The designated individuals for these sanctions, OFAC said, are part of a global information operation connected to the Russian Federation—targeting not only Moldova, but other Balkan countries, the EU, UK, and U.S.—that provokes anti-government demonstrations designed to instill fear that undermines faith in democratic principles. Notably, the actors designated were part of a plot to “capitalize on these protests in Chisinau and seize the Moldovan Government House,” OFAC stated. As a result of these sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Further, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless exempt or authorized by a general or specific OFAC license. Additionally, OFAC warned that financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned persons may themselves be exposed to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action.
The U.S. Treasury Department recently released its “first of its kind” strategy to address financial institution de-risking. Mandated by the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, the 2023 De-Risking Strategy examines customer categories most often impacted by de-risking and provides findings and policy recommendations to address ongoing problems. Treasury defines de-risking as financial institutions restricting or terminating business relationships indiscriminately with broad classes of customers rather than analyzing and managing specific risks in a targeted manner. The report found that customers most frequently subject to de-risking are small-to-medium-sized money service businesses (MSB) that are often used by immigrant communities to send remittances abroad. Other commonly impacted customer categories include non-profit organizations operating overseas in high-risk jurisdictions and foreign financial institutions with low correspondent banking transaction volumes. De-risking is particularly acute for entities operating in financial environments characterized by significant money laundering/terrorism financing risks, the report notes. Identifying “profitability as the primary factor in financial institutions’ de-risking decisions,” the report found that profitability is influenced by several factors, including the cost to implement anti-money laundering/countering the finance of terrorism (AML/CFT) compliance measures and systems commensurate with customer risk.
The report presents several recommendations for policymakers, such as promoting consistent supervisory expectations and training federal examiners to consider the effects of de-risking, as well as suggesting that financial institutions analyze account termination notices and notice periods for non-profits and MSBs to identify ways to support longer notice periods where possible. Treasury also encourages heightened international cooperation to strengthen foreign jurisdictions’ AML/CFT regimes, and encourages policymakers to continue assessing the risks and opportunities of innovative and emerging technologies for AML/CFT compliance solutions. Treasury may also consider requiring financial institutions to have “reasonably designed and risk-based AML/CFT programs supervised on a risk basis, possibly taking into consideration the effects of financial inclusion.”
On December 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it co-led, with Ireland, the development of UNSCR 2664, which implements a carveout from the asset freeze provisions of UN sanctions programs. OFAC noted that to implement the policy across U.S. sanctions programs, it issued or amended general licenses (GLs) to ease the delivery of humanitarian aid and ensure a baseline of authorizations for the provision of humanitarian support across many sanctions programs. The GLs being issued or amended provide authorizations in: (i) the official business of the U.S. government (see here); (ii) the official business of certain international organizations and entities (see here); (iii) certain humanitarian transactions in support of activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as disaster relief, health services, and activities to support democracy, education, environmental protection, and peacebuilding (see here); and (iv) the provision of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices, as well as replacement parts and components and software updates for medical devices, for personal, non-commercial use (see here). OFAC also noted that it is separately updating a regulatory interpretation in several sanctions programs’ regulations to explain that the property and interests in property of an entity are blocked if one or more blocked persons own, whether individually or in the aggregate, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest in the entity. These changes are effective immediately. OFAC is also publishing four new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs 1105, 1106, 1107 and 1108), which provide further guidance on the action and the authorizations being issued or amended, including guidance for financial institutions facilitating activity for NGOs and OFAC’s due diligence expectations. According to OFAC, these historic steps “further enable the flow of legitimate humanitarian assistance supporting the basic human needs of vulnerable populations while continuing to deny resources to malicious actors.”
On August 11, the FTC announced that it issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) on a wide range of concerns about commercial surveillance practices. According to the FTC, it is exploring “rules to crack down on harmful commercial surveillance and lax data security.” The FTC described that commercial surveillance is the business of collecting, analyzing, and profiting from information about individuals. The FTC also noted that “[m]ass surveillance has increased the risks and stakes of data breaches, deception, manipulation, and other abuses.” The ANPR solicits public comment regarding “the harms stemming from commercial surveillance and whether new rules are needed to protect people’s privacy and information.” The ANPR also noted that there is increasing evidence that some surveillance-based services may be addictive to children and lead to a wide variety of mental health and social harms. The FTC also released a Fact Sheet on the FTC’s Commercial Surveillance and Data Security Rulemaking and a Fact Sheet on Public Participation in the Section 18 Rulemaking Process. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
On March 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Elizabeth Rosenberg delivered remarks before the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (ACAMS) Hollywood Conference, asking attendees to consider “[w]hat must a culture of compliance look like in a world where autocracy is on the rise” and how financial institutions should adapt their Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (AML) obligations to ensure they are effective. Rosenberg praised the quick responses taken by financial institutions and financial service providers in implementing the growing list of sanctions against Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s support structure in light of the recent invasion of Ukraine. “Russia’s war has meaningfully expanded AML and sanctions obligations,” Rosenberg cautioned, stressing it was time for an updated approach to considering and managing risk. “Geopolitical events are evolving fast, and we need financial institutions more than ever to act swiftly as we in the government are pushing out new designations and advisories almost daily.” She instructed attendees to “think about risk and enhanced due diligence when it comes to Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats who may not have been priorities for [entities’] compliance efforts in early February but are now crucial players, supporting Putin’s power structure.”
Rosenberg further noted that Treasury’s efforts would be aided if public and private sectors were faster about sharing information and if information sharing was improved “across borders, between financial institutions, and with the government.” Closing money laundering and global passport loopholes through which sanctioned actors can move funds and assets around the globe is also critical, Rosenberg stated. She also highlighted the U.S. government’s recent collaboration with foreign partners to help countries effectively take measures to “find, restrain, freeze, and where appropriate, to confiscate the assets of those who have been sanctioned in connection with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” These multilateral efforts include the recent launch of the Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs multilateral task force, and Treasury’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Rewards Program, as well as recently issued FinCEN advisories to help compliance officials better identify Russian sanctions evasion and suspicious financial activity including through real estate, luxury goods, and other high-value assets. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on the U.S. sanctions response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine here.