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On July 27, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC), fining a California-based securities firm $50,000 for allegedly failing to implement and follow its own anti-money laundering (AML) compliance procedures. As a result, the firm allegedly failed to detect red flags concerning potentially suspicious activity and failed to investigate or report the activity in a timely manner. According to FINRA, a sales practice examination detected instances between November 2012 and December 2016 in which the firm failed to detect red flags in four related accounts, including suspicious activity related to: (i) the “ownership of multiple accounts without an apparent business purpose for multiple accounts”; (ii) an account owner with a “significant disciplinary history related to securities fraud”; (iii) possible manipulative trading activity; (iv) unusual, unexpected transfer activity between related accounts without an apparent business purpose; and (v) unexplained third-party wire transfers, inconsistent with expected account activity. FINRA stated that although the “firm’s AML procedures indicated that when the firm detected any red flags of potentially suspicious activity, it would determine whether and how to investigate further,” the firm failed to implement these measures. The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement but agreed to pay the fine and address identified deficiencies in its programs to ensure compliance with its AML obligations.
On July 23, the DOJ announced it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that four companies engaged in a scheme to launder U.S. dollars on behalf of sanctioned North Korean banks and seeking forfeiture of $2,372,793. The DOJ claims that the North Korean banks illegally accessed the U.S. financial market and used the companies to make and receive U.S. dollar payments to and from North Korean front companies. According to the DOJ, the complaint “illuminates how a global money laundering network coordinates with front companies to move North Korean money through the [U.S.] and violate the sanctions imposed by [the] government on North Korea.” The DOJ further refers to a United Nations Panel of Experts statement that North Korean networks access formal banking channels by, among other things, maintaining correspondent bank accounts and representative offices abroad staffed by foreign nationals that make use of front companies, which permit North Korean banks “to conduct illicit procurement and banking activity.”
On July 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against two individuals for allegedly assisting, sponsoring, or providing “financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” either the previously designated son of Nicolás Maduro Moros, or to Venezuelan government senior officials. The individuals, sanctioned pursuant to Executive Order 13692, are allegedly central figures in Venezuela’s gold industry and “oversee the financial mechanism of [an] illicit gold scheme.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated individuals, are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
On July 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published nine amended Ukraine-/Russia-related Frequently Asked Questions in response to the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13O and 15I. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the newly issued GLs extend the expiration date to January 22, 2021 for the authorization of certain transactions necessary to divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings, or wind down operations or existing contracts with a Russian manufacturer previously sanctioned by OFAC in April 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the FAQs discuss specific permitted activities, transactions, and uses of blocked funds. The FAQs also state that foreign persons will not be subject to sanctions for engaging in activity with the Russian manufacturer or any entities in which the manufacturer owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest, provided the activity is authorized by GL 15I and occurs within the authorized time period.
OFAC sanctions persons connected to Nicaragua President Ortega; amends Nicaragua sanctions regulations and Ukraine-related general licenses
On July 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13851 against one of Nicaraguan President Ortega’s sons, as well as a second individual and two companies used to allegedly “distribute regime propaganda and launder money.” According to OFAC, the second sanctioned individual created shell companies to launder money from businesses that he operated on behalf of another one of the president’s sons previously designated by OFAC. OFAC also cited to the individual’s alleged involvement on behalf of a chain of sanctioned gas stations controlled by the Ortega family, designating the individual “for being responsible for or complicit in, or for having directly or indirectly engaged or attempted to engage in, a transaction or series of transactions involving deceptive practices or corruption by, on behalf of, or otherwise related to the [Government of Nicaragua (GoN)] or a current or former official of the GoN.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals and entities, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by such persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with the sanctioned persons.
Separately, on July 16, OFAC announced amendments (effective July 17) to the Nicaragua Sanctions Regulations, which incorporate the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018, and, among other things, update the authority citation as well as the prohibited transactions and delegation sections. A general license previously posted on OFAC’s website authorizing certain U.S. government activities related to Nicaragua also has been incorporated. The final rule is effective July 17.
The announcement also extends the expiration date of two Ukraine-related general licenses (GLs). Both GL 13O, which supersedes GL 13N, and GL 15I, which supersedes GL 15H, now expire January 22, 2021, and authorize certain transactions necessary to divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings, or wind down operations or existing contracts with a Russian manufacturer previously sanctioned by OFAC in April 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here).
On July 16, a United Arab Emirates cigarette filter and tear tape manufacturer settled OFAC and DOJ charges for apparent violations of the North Korea Sanctions Regulations (NKSR) 31 C.F.R. part 510 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). According to OFAC’s release, the company allegedly violated the NKSR by (i) engaging in deceptive practices in order to export cigarette filters to North Korea through a network of front companies in China and other countries; and (ii) receiving three wire transfers totaling more than $330,000 in accounts at a U.S. bank’s foreign branch as payment for exporting the filters. OFAC noted that the conduct leading to the apparent violations included aggravating factors such as (i) the company’s senior manager and customer-facing employee willfully violated the NKSR by agreeing to, among other things, transact with non-North Korean front companies to conceal the North Korea connection despite a company policy that “warned that its banks would not handle transactions with sanctioned jurisdictions” including North Korea; and (ii) the senior manager and customer-facing employee were aware that the filters would be sent to North Korea. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company substantially cooperated with OFAC’s investigation and agreed to provide ongoing cooperation. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the company is required to pay a $665,112 civil monetary penalty to OFAC, which will be deemed satisfied by payment of the fine assessed by the DOJ arising out of the same conduct.
In the parallel criminal enforcement action, the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, accepting responsibility for its criminal conduct and agreeing to pay a $666,543.88 fine. According to the DOJ, this is the Department’s first corporate enforcement action for violations of the IEEPA. In addition, the company agreed to, among other things, fully cooperate with any investigation, implement a compliance program designed to prevent and detect any future violations of U.S. economic sanctions regulations, provide quarterly reports to the DOJ regarding the status of compliance improvements, provide OFAC-related training, and annually certify to OFAC that it has implemented and has continued to uphold its compliance-related commitments.
On July 16, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an alert warning financial institutions about a scam using social media accounts to solicit fraudulent payments denominated in convertible virtual currency (CVC). According to FinCEN, high-profile social media accounts were compromised and used to solicit payments to CVC accounts, with claims that any CVC sent would be “doubled and returned to the sender.” The alert reminds financial institutions to report suspicious transactions involving this type of activity as soon as possible, and that “[a]ny data or information that helps identify the activity as suspicious can be included as an indicator” on their Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) form. The alert notes several indicators to assist financial institutions in identifying activity related to the scam, including (i) communications soliciting payments with misspellings; (ii) social media posts soliciting donations from unverified accounts; and (iii) multiple accounts communicating the same message soliciting funds for an unknown purpose.
Terrorist Financing Targeting Center designates ISIS-affiliated financial facilitators and money services businesses
On July 15, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the seven member nations of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) have jointly designated six targets affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), including three key money services businesses. Four targets are designated for providing “a critical financial and logistical lifeline to ISIS, its branches, and its global facilitation networks,” while two targets are designated for “abus[ing] the goodwill of the international community under the auspices of charitable giving to facilitate the transfer of funds for and to support the activities of ISIS’s branch in Afghanistan, ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K).” Since 2017, the participating TFTC members—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)—have issued five rounds of joint designations against 60 terrorist targets globally, in an effort to challenge ISIS’s ability to finance its operations through money service businesses and charities operating under false pretenses.
As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets that are or come within the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.” OFAC further warned that persons that engage in transactions with one of the designated individuals maybe be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action. Additionally, foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions to the designated entities may be subject to prohibitions or strict conditions by OFAC.
On July 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders 13848, 13694, and 13661 against three individuals and five entities located in Sudan, Hong Kong, and Thailand, for allegedly enabling a Russian financier to evade U.S. sanctions. According to OFAC, the financier supported the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian “troll farm” designated by OFAC in 2018, and is believed to be the financier behind Private Military Company, a “designated Russian Ministry of Defense proxy force.” OFAC alleged that this operation “advocated for the use of social media-enabled disinformation campaigns similar to those deployed by the IRA, and the staging of public executions to distract protestors seeking reforms.” Additionally, OFAC alleged that the individual and Thailand and Hong Kong-based entities “facilitated over 100 transactions exceeding $7.5 million that were sent in the interest of [the financier].” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to, or owned by, the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
On July 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Venezuela General License (GL) 5D, which supersedes GL 5C and authorizes certain transactions otherwise prohibited under Executive Orders 13835 and 13857 related to, or that provide financing for, dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. 2020 8.5 Percent Bond on or after October 20, 2020. Concurrently, OFAC issued a new Venezuela-related frequently asked question regarding GL 5D.
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