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On October 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced General License (GL) 8D, titled “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for Maintenance of Operations for Certain Entities in Venezuela,” which supersedes GL 8C to extend the expiration date through January 22, 2020.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On October 18, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had convened the first meeting of the Counter-Hizballah International Partnership (CHIP) involving representatives from over 30 countries. CHIP participants discussed methods to diminish Hizballah’s exploitation of the international financial system to fund terrorist activities and stressed the importance of building momentum and ensuring coordination of efforts. Impact-oriented considerations included: (i) establishing cross-border information sharing among financial intelligence units; (ii) “strengthening terrorism finance risk assessments”; (iii) creating “targeted financial sanctions regimes;” and (iv) prosecuting terrorists and their affiliated financial facilitators.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage related to Hizballah here.
On October 18, the U.S. Treasury Department released a public statement issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) following the conclusion of its plenary meeting held October 16-18. Topics discussed by attendees included Iranian terrorist financial risks, guidance related to “stablecoins” and virtual assets, and reports related to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Specifically, the FATF discussed the re-imposition of countermeasures on Iran as well as enhanced due diligence strategies due to the country’s AML/CFT deficiencies. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FATF issued a public statement last June that called upon members and urged all jurisdictions to require increased supervisory examination for branches and subsidiaries of financial institutions based in Iran. Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Marshall Billingslea issued a statement in Treasury’s press release that “countries will be called upon to impose further financial restrictions to protect the international financial system if Iran hasn’t ratified and fully implemented the key treaties related to fighting money laundering and terrorist financing.”
The FATF also issued a public statement to clarify that standards adopted last June (InfoBytes coverage here) apply to “stablecoins” and their service providers. Additionally, the FATF adopted changes to its methodology on how it will assess whether countries are complying with the relevant requirements. Specifically, the FATF noted in the plenary meeting outcomes that “assessments will specifically look at how well countries have implemented these measures. Countries that have already undergone their mutual evaluation must report back during their follow-up process on the actions they have taken in this area.”
Additionally, the FATF (i) provided an updated report on measures for combating ISIL and Al-Qaeda financing; (ii) called upon all countries to apply countermeasures on North Korea due to ongoing AML/CFT and weapons of mass destruction proliferation financing risks to the international financial system; and (iii) noted it will publish reports by year end related to AML/CFT and counter-proliferation financing legal frameworks for both Russia and Turkey, along with a review of implementation measures undertaken by the countries.
On October 15, the DOJ announced charges against a Turkish bank alleging fraud, money laundering, and sanctions offenses related to the bank’s alleged participation in a scheme to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran. According to the indictment, the bank used money service businesses and front companies to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and “avoid prohibitions against Iran’s access to the U.S. financial system.” The bank allegedly lied to U.S. regulators and foreign banks about its participation in the fraudulent transactions. The concealed funds, the DOJ claimed, “were used to make international payments on behalf of the Government of Iran and Iranian banks, including transfers in U.S. dollars that passed through the U.S. financial system in violation of U.S. sanctions laws.” Additionally, the DOJ asserted that the conduct—which allowed Iran access to “billions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil revenue”—was protected by high ranking government officials in Iran and Turkey, some of whom received millions of dollars in bribes to promote and protect the scheme from U.S. scrutiny.
On October 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against four members of a corruption network in South Africa for alleged corruption violations of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, the four individuals “leveraged [their] political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities.
On October 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement of more than $2.7 million with a multinational corporation, on behalf of three subsidiaries, to resolve potential civil liability for 289 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The settlement resolves allegations that between December 2010 and February 2014, the subsidiaries accepted payments on 289 occasions from an entity identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons “for goods and services provided to a Canadian customer.” OFAC alleged that although the subsidiaries negotiated and entered into contracts with the Canadian customer—and invoices were sent to the customer—the designated entity was approved as a third-party payer and paid more than 65 percent of the total transactions. OFAC asserted that the subsidiaries failed to undertake sufficient diligence into the activities of the Canadian customer, and noted that the sanctions screening software used by the subsidiaries was set to screen for only one version of the designated entity’s name.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors including that (i) OFAC has not issued a violation against the subsidiaries in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions at issue; (ii) the corporation identified the alleged violations by testing and auditing its compliance program, and implemented several remedial measures in response to the alleged violations, which included improvements to its compliance program; and (iii) the corporation entered into, and agreed to extend, multiple statute of limitations tolling agreements.
OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the subsidiaries “failed to take proper or reasonable care with respect to their U.S. economic sanctions obligations”; (ii) the subsidiaries’ actions allowed a large volume of high-value transactions to be conducted with the designated entity, causing “substantial harm” to the CACR objectives; and (iii) the corporation’s submissions to OFAC “leave substantial uncertainty about the totality of the benefits conferred” to the designated entity through the Canadian customer.
On September 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amended Venezuelan General Licenses (GL) 3G, which supersedes and replaces GL 3F, and 9F, which supersedes GL 9E. The amended GLs concern authorized transactions related to the financing and dealings in certain bonds and securities, and extend the authorization wind-down periods to March 31, 2020. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the GLs were issued in conjunction with Executive Order 13884 which, among other things, prevents all property and interest in property of the Government of Venezuela within the U.S. or in the possession of a U.S. person from being transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in.
At the end of September, the SEC announced three settlements resolving claims related to alleged violations of the FCPA.
On September 27, a UK-based bank holding company agreed to pay over $6 million to settle alleged charges that it violated the FCPA by hiring relatives of government officials and other clients in an attempt to secure business in the Asia Pacific-region. According to the SEC, the bank hired more than 100 people connected to foreign government officials or other clients through the bank’s unofficial intern “work experience program,” or as part of its formal internship program, graduate program, or for permanent positions. Employees then created false books and records that concealed the practices and circumvented internal controls in place to prevent the activities. In the administrative order, the SEC ultimately charged violations of the books and records and internal controls provisions of the FCPA. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the bank agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil money penalty (CMP) and more than $4.8 million in disgorgement and interest.
In a second administrative order announced the same day, a Canadian fuel technology company agreed to pay over $4.1 million to settle FCPA bribery charges connected to a Chinese government official. The SEC alleged that the company and its former CEO transferred shares of stock in a Chinese joint venture to a Chinese private equity fund, in which the official had a financial stake, in an attempt to secure business and obtain a $3.5 million dividend payment. The SEC noted that the company concealed the identity of the private equity fund in its books and records, as well as in its public filings, by “falsely identifying a different entity as the counterparty to the transaction,” and that the CEO circumvented and falsely certified the sufficiency of the company’s internal accounting controls put in place to prevent such actions. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company and the CEO consented to a cease and desist order covering violations of the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the FCPA, and agreed to pay a $1.5 million CMP and $120,000 CMP, respectively, and more than $2.5 million in disgorgement and interest.
On September 26, a Wisconsin-based marketing provider agreed to pay nearly $10 million to settle FCPA charges related to bribery schemes in Peru and China. The alleged misconduct included the company’s Peruvian subsidiary paying or promising bribes to Peruvian government officials from at least 2011 to January 2016 in an attempt to secure sales contracts and avoid penalties, while also creating false records to conceal certain transactions with a sanctioned Cuban telecommunications company. The SEC stated that the company’s China-based subsidiary also made improper payments to employees of state owned entities and private customers through sham sales agents. According to the administrative order, the company violated the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA as well as the books and records and internal controls provisions, including by failing to ensure that its internal accounting controls were sufficient to prevent the alleged bribery schemes in Peru and China. Without admitting or denying wrongdoing, the company consented to a cease and desist order, agreed to pay a $2 million CMP and over $7.8 million in disgorgement and interest, and will, for a one-year period, self-report on its compliance program.
On September 24, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Kenneth Blanco spoke at the Federal Identity (FedID) Forum and Exposition, discussing the role of FinCEN in combatting fraud and cybercrime and highlighting concerns regarding identity crimes. Blanco noted that FinCEN sees approximately 5,000 account takeover reports each month, a crime that “involves the targeting of financial institution customer accounts to gain unauthorized access to funds.” Moreover, FinCEN sees a high amount of fraud through account takeovers via fintech platforms, where cybercriminals use fintech data aggregators to facilitate account takeovers and fraudulent wires. Blanco stated that cybercriminals create fraudulent accounts and are able to “exploit the platforms’ integration with various financial services to initiate seemingly legitimate financial activity while creating a degree of separation from traditional fraud detection efforts.”
Additionally, Blanco discussed how cybercriminals use business email compromise (BEC) fraud schemes to target financial institutions and relayed FinCEN’s efforts to combat these schemes. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in July, FinCEN issued an updated advisory, describing general trends in BEC schemes, information concerning the targeting of non-business entities, and risks associated with the targeting of vulnerable business processes. Blanco also discussed (i) FinCEN’s final rule titled the “Customer Due Diligence Requirements for Financial Institutions,” (the CDD Rule) (prior coverage by InfoBytes here); and (ii) FinCEN’s December 2018 joint statement with federal banking agencies encouraging innovative approaches to combatting money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial threats when safeguarding the financial system (previously covered by InfoBytes here).
On September 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13850 against four entities for their alleged involvement in the transportation of oil from Venezuela to Cuba. According to OFAC, the entities’ actions offer support to the Maduro regime and “enable its repressive security and intelligence apparatus.” In addition, OFAC identified four vessels as blocked property owned by the identified entities. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.” OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with blocked or designated persons.
Additionally, the announcement notes that OFAC is delisting two entities in recognition of their actions to ensure that their vessels are not complicit in supporting the Maduro regime. As a result of the delisting, all property and interest of the entities are now unblocked and lawful transactions involving U.S. persons are no longer prohibited.
Since OFAC’s designation of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company last January, the department has sanctioned several entities and individuals connected to Venezuela’s oil sector. Continuing InfoBytes coverage on these actions can be found here.
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