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OFAC issues sanctions compliance guidance for transactions related to Syrian earthquake disaster relief
On February 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued sanctions compliance guidance for authorized transactions related to Syrian earthquake disaster relief. The OFAC Compliance Communique: Guidance on Authorized Transactions Related to Earthquake Relief Efforts in Syria responds to questions from nongovernmental organizations and the general public on how to provide assistance and funding to earthquake relief efforts in Syria that would otherwise be prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier in February, OFAC issued Syria General License (GL) 23 to authorize certain transactions ordinarily prohibited by OFAC sanctions. Among other things, GL 23 informed U.S. financial institutions and U.S. registered money transmitters that they “may rely on the originator of a funds transfer with regard to compliance” for transactions related to earthquake relief efforts in Syria, provided that the financial institution does not know or have reason to know that the funds transfer is not related to such efforts.
Treasury official warns that the cost of doing business with Russia is steep
On February 21, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo discussed sanctions efforts and export controls taken by a coalition of more than 30 nations over the past year to immobilize the majority of Russia’s sovereign wealth and central bank assets. Adeyemo noted that the breadth of this coalition will enable Russia’s continued isolation, and emphasized that those nations that fail to implement these sanctions and export controls will be forced to choose between their economic ties with the coalition and providing material support to Russia. Recognizing that the Russian government is actively seeking ways to circumvent these sanctions, Adeyemo laid out the coalition’s plan to countering sanctions evasion, as follows: (i) “improve information sharing and coordination among our allies, as well as share additional information with firms in our countries to garner their assistance in preventing countries, companies, and individuals from providing material support to Russia”; (ii) take measures to identify and shut down the specific channels used by Russia to equip and fund its military; and (iii) apply pressure on companies and jurisdictions known to allow or facilitate sanctions evasions. Adeyemo warned that “[o]fficials from the U.S. and the governments of our coalition partners are also engaging with companies and banks in these jurisdictions to tell them directly that if they do not enforce our sanctions and export controls, we will cut them off from access to our markets and financial systems.” He added that the “cost of doing business with Russia in violation of our policies is a steep one, and companies and financial institutions should not wait for their governments to make the decision for them.”
Treasury roundtable examines effectiveness of Russian sanctions and export controls
On February 10, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo convened a roundtable to hear from sanctions and U.S. foreign policy experts on the effectiveness of the unprecedented sanctions and export controls imposed on Russia by a coalition of more than 30 countries. Over the past year, the countries have imposed economic restrictions on Russia with the intention of disrupting Russia’s military supply chains and denying the Russian government funding for its war against Ukraine. Adeyemo discussed progress made on these fronts, and said the strain on Russia’s military can be seen through the government’s attempts to backfill equipment and supplies through third parties in permissive jurisdictions or sanctioned countries. Adeyemo said that in the upcoming weeks and months, Treasury intends to increase “its focus on countering sanctions evasion, including by targeting facilitators and third-country providers that may wittingly or unwittingly help Russia replenish the supplies and material it desperately needs to support its military.”
CSBS says state regulators need access to FinCEN’s beneficial ownership database
On February 14, the Conference of State Bank Supervisors commented that FinCEN should be more explicit in its inclusion of state regulators as agencies that can request access to FinCEN’s forthcoming secure, non-public beneficial ownership information database. (See comment letter here.) As previously covered by InfoBytes, last December FinCEN issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to implement provisions of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) that govern the access to and protection of beneficial ownership information (BOI). The NPRM proposed regulations for establishing who may request beneficial ownership information, how the information must be secured, and non-compliance penalties, and also addressed aspects of the database that are currently in development. Agreeing that the new database would help enhance anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism standards and help prevent the use of privacy to hide illicit activity from law enforcement and government authorities, CSBS asked that the final rule “explicitly define state regulators so that there is no confusion about their ability to access BOI when examining state-chartered banks and non-depository trust companies for compliance with customer due diligence requirements under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA).” According to CSBS, state regulators conducted over 1,200 BSA exams in 2021. CSBS further pointed out that being able request BOI on an as needed basis would aid investigative and enforcement responsibilities for both state-chartered banks and state-licensed nonbank financial services providers.
U.S.-EU release statement on Joint Financial Regulatory Forum
On February 7-8, EU and U.S. participants, including officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC, participated in the U.S.-EU Joint Financial Regulatory Forum to continue their ongoing financial regulatory dialogue. According to a joint statement issued by the participants, the matters discussed focused on six themes: “(1) market developments and financial stability risks; (2) sustainable finance and climate-related financial risks; (3) regulatory developments in banking and insurance; (4) operational resilience and digital finance; (5) regulatory and supervisory cooperation in capital markets; and (6) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).”
The joint statement acknowledged that the Russia/Ukraine conflict, coupled with global economic uncertainty and inflationary pressures, have exposed “the financial system to downside risk both in the EU and in the U.S,” with participants stressing the importance of international coordination in monitoring vulnerabilities and building resilience against stability risks. During the forum, participants discussed recent developments related to sustainability-related financial disclosures, climate-related financial risks, cross-border bank resolution coordination, the transition away from LIBOR, digital finance operational resilience, and progress made in strengthening their respective AML/CFT frameworks.
OFAC sanctions more Bulgarian officials
On February 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 13818, against five current or former Bulgarian government officials for their alleged “extensive involvement in corruption in Bulgaria.” The designations build upon previous OFAC sanctions taken against three individuals and their networks (encompassing 64 entities) for their extensive roles in corruption in Bulgaria. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) As a result of the 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. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. Additionally, “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 also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC. “[F]inancial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned entities and individuals may expose themselves to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action,” OFAC warned.
OFAC authorizes certain transactions to aid Syrian earthquake disaster relief
On February 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Syria General License (GL) 23 to authorize, for 180 days, all transactions related to earthquake relief efforts that would ordinarily be prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations (SySR). Specifically, authorizations under GL 23 include “the processing or transfer of funds on behalf of third-country persons to or from Syria in support of” transactions related to earthquake relief efforts in the country. Additionally, “U.S. financial institutions and U.S. registered money transmitters may rely on the originator of a funds transfer with regard to compliance” for transactions related to earthquake relief efforts in Syria, provided that the financial institution does not know or have reason to know that the funds transfer is not related to such efforts. GL 23 does not permit any transactions prohibited under the SySR related to the importation of petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin into the U.S., or any transactions involving persons “whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to the SySR, other than persons who meet the definition of the term Government of Syria, as defined in section 542.305(a) of the SySR, unless separately authorized.” Additionally, OFAC advised financial institutions and others who may be engaged in disaster relief activities for Syria to contact OFAC directly to seek specific licenses or guidance should they believe their activities are not covered by existing authorizations or exemptions.
Treasury official warns Turkish companies on engaging with Russian entities
On February 3, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Brian E. Nelson, met with the Banks Association of Turkey to discuss international sanctions actions against Russia for its war against Ukraine. Nelson highlighted global illicit finance challenges and stressed the importance of addressing weaknesses within the financial system “to root out financial crime, shine light on the financial shadows that illicit actors exploit, and work toward a more equitable and inclusive global economy.” Nelson commented on potential areas for cooperation between Turkish banks and the broader international finance community, pointing to opportunities for the U.S. and Turkey to work together to mitigate anti-money laundering vulnerabilities in the real estate sector. He also focused on Russia’s “abuse of the global financial system to fund” its war in Ukraine as a main factor in international cooperation for preventing Russia from circumventing sanctions and financial controls “in dozens of countries, including [Turkey].” While Nelson recognized Turkey’s reliance on Russian energy and agriculture, he said that “the marked rise over the past year in non-essential Turkish exports or re-exports to Russia makes the Turkish private sector particularly vulnerable to reputational and sanctions risks.” Engaging with sanctioned Russian entities puts Turkish banks and businesses “at risk of sanctions and a potential loss of access to G7 markets and correspondent relationships,” Nelson stressed, calling upon Turkish financial institutions to conduct “enhanced due diligence” in all transactions with Russian entities and individuals—especially within vulnerable sectors.
OFAC, UK announce joint sanctions on Russia-based cybercrime gang
On February 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in coordination with the UK, announced sanctions against seven individuals who allegedly are involved in a Russia-based cybercrime gang and are associated with the development or deployment of a range of ransomware strains designed to steal financial data. (See also UK’s announcement here.) The sanctions, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13694 as amended by E.O. 13757, represent the first sanctions of their kind for the UK, and come as a result of a partnership between OFAC and the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office, the UK National Crime Agency, and His Majesty’s Treasury—all of which serve to disrupt Russian cybercrime and ransomware. “Cyber criminals, particularly those based in Russia, seek to attack critical infrastructure, target U.S. businesses, and exploit the international financial system,” Treasury Under Secretary Brian E. Nelson said in the announcement, stressing that “international cooperation is key to addressing Russian cybercrime.” Referring to an action taken by FinCEN last month, which identified a Russia-based virtual currency exchange “as a ‘primary money laundering concern’ in connection with Russian illicit finance” (covered by InfoBytes here), OFAC reiterated that the U.S. and UK are “committed to using all available authorities and tools to defend against cyber threats.” The designations follow other joint sanctions actions taken by the two countries and reflect findings that sanctions are most effective in coordination with international partners, OFAC said.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individuals that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. Persons that engage in certain transactions with the designated individuals may themselves be exposed to sanctions, and “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals or entities designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent or payable-through account sanctions.”
OFAC sanctions 9 companies for involvement in Iranian petrochemicals and petroleum
On February 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 13846, against six Iran-based petrochemical manufacturers or their subsidiaries, as well as three firms located in Malaysia and Singapore, for their involvement in the sale and shipment of petroleum and petrochemicals on behalf of a previously designated company. According to the announcement, the designations follow sanctions imposed by OFAC last November against 13 companies in multiple jurisdictions for their involvement in the sale of Iranian petrochemicals and petroleum products to buyers in East Asia on behalf of sanctioned Iranian petrochemical brokers (covered by InfoBytes here). As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. Persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals or entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to enforcement. Additionally, OFAC warned that “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals designated today could be subject to U.S. sanctions.”