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  • Digital payment solutions company settles with OFAC for $500k

    Financial Crimes

    On February 18, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with a Georgia-based payment processing solutions company for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, between 2013 and 2018, the company—which offers solutions for merchants to accept digital currency as payment for goods and services—allegedly processed thousands of transactions on behalf of individuals located in sanctioned jurisdictions based on IP addresses and invoice information. Specifically, OFAC alleged that the company “received digital currency payments on behalf of its merchant customers from those merchants’ buyers who were located in sanctioned jurisdictions, converted the digital currency to fiat currency, and then related that currency to its merchants.” While OFAC noted that the company screened its direct merchants against its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons and conducted due diligence to ensure merchants were not located in a sanctioned jurisdiction, the company’s transaction review process allegedly failed to screen identification and location data for its merchants’ buyers, many of whom were located in Crimea, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. As a result, these buyers, OFAC claimed, were able to make purchases from merchants located in the U.S. and elsewhere using digital currency on the company’s platform in violation of an executive order and multiple sanctions regulations.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) “failed to exercise due caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations” by allowing buyers in sanctioned jurisdictions to transact with merchants despite having “sufficient information to screen those customers”; and (ii) conveyed more than $128,000 in economic benefit to individuals in OFAC sanctioned jurisdictions.

    OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) had implemented certain sanctions compliance controls, including due diligence and sanctions screening; (ii) trained employees—including senior management—that signing up merchants from sanctioned jurisdictions or trading with sanctioned persons is prohibited; (iii) cooperated with OFAC’s investigation; and (iv) terminated the conduct leading to the apparent violations and undertook remedial measures to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future. The base civil monetary penalty applicable in this action is $2,255,000; however, the lower settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the general factors under the Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Cryptocurrency Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations Enforcement Settlement

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  • Indonesian company settles with OFAC for $1 million for North Korea sanctions violations, enters into deferred prosecution agreement with DOJ

    Financial Crimes

    On January 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a more than $1 million settlement with an Indonesian-based paper products manufacturer for 28 apparent violations of the North Korea Sanction Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, between 2016 and 2018, the company “exported cigarette paper to entities located in or doing business on behalf of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” including a Chinese intermediary that procured paper on behalf of an OFAC-designated company operating under an alias. The company allegedly directed payments for its DPRK-related exports to a U.S. dollar bank account held at a non U.S. bank, leading to 28 wire transfers being cleared through U.S. banks. OFAC noted that while the company initially referenced the DPRK entities on documents such as invoices, packing lists, and bills of lading, it eventually replaced the references with the names of intermediaries located in third countries.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) “acted with reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions laws and regulations” by directing DPRK-related payments to its U.S. dollar account; (ii) was aware that management had actual knowledge of the conduct at issue; and (iii) the company’s actions “caused U.S. persons to confer economic benefits to the DPRK and an OFAC-designated person.”

    OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) cooperated with OFAC’s investigation; (ii) has undertaken remedial measures, ceased all dealings with the DPRK, and enhanced its compliance controls and internal policies by, among other things, procuring a sanctions screening service from a third-party provider, implementing a know-your-customer process, and requiring that “all trading companies or agents purchasing goods on behalf of other end-users sign an anti-diversion agreement that includes OFAC sanctions compliance commitments.”

    Separately, the DOJ announced that the company agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement for conspiring to commit bank fraud after admitting it deceived U.S. banks in order to trade with the DPRK. The company also “agreed to implement a compliance program designed to prevent and detect violations of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations and to regularly report to the [DOJ] on the implementation of that program.” The company is also required to report violations of relevant U.S. laws to the DOJ and “cooperate in the investigation of such offenses.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Enforcement Sanctions Settlement Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations North Korea DOJ

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  • OFAC sanctions entities for assisting North Korean coal exportation

    Financial Crimes

    On December 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders 13687, 13722, and 13810 against six entities related to the alleged transportation of North Korean coal. OFAC also identified four vessels as blocked property. According to OFAC, by engaging in activities prohibited under UN Security Council resolution 2371, the six sanctioned entities have assisted North Korea’s continued efforts to circumvent UN prohibitions on the exportation of North Korean coal. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets that are in 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” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated individuals or entities, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions. OFAC also recommended all relevant jurisdictions review a global advisory issued last May by the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, along with the U.S. Coast Guard (covered by InfoBytes here), which warned the maritime industry of deceptive shipping practices used by Iran, North Korea, and Syria to evade economic sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions entities for assisting North Korean regime

    Financial Crimes

    On November 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13722 against two entities allegedly involved in the exportation of forced labor from North Korea. According to OFAC, the sanctioned entities—a Russian construction company and a North Korean company—have “engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of forced labor from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or Workers’ Party of Korea.” In addition, OFAC updated the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Person List to provide additional information on three previously designated companies responsible for sending North Korean workers to Russia and China. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets that are in 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” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated individuals or entities, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions investors supporting Syrian government

    Financial Crimes

    On July 29, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against one individual and nine entities for providing significant investment support to the Syrian government. OFAC noted that, among other things, the designated individual and his companies knowingly provided “significant financial, material, or technological support to, or knowingly engag[ed] in a significant transaction with, the Government of Syria (including any entity owned or controlled by the Government of Syria) or a senior political figure of the Government of Syria.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons,” and warned that non-U.S. persons that engage in transactions with the designated persons may expose themselves to designation. OFAC also referenced a previously published Fact Sheet (covered by InfoBytes here), which highlights the most pertinent exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Syria, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related​ sanctions programs to ensure humanitarian-related trade and assistance reaches at-risk populations through legitimate and transparent channels during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons Syria

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  • UAE manufacturer settles OFAC, DOJ charges for apparent North Korean sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes OFAC DOJ Department of Treasury Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • OFAC settles with global e-commerce, digital service provider over multiple sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On July 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $134,523 settlement with a Washington-based company that provides retail, e-commerce, and digital services worldwide. According to OFAC, due to deficiencies in the company’s sanctions screening process, between 2011 and 2018, the company provided goods and services to OFAC sanctioned persons; to persons located in the sanctioned region or countries of Crimea, Iran, and Syria; and “for persons located in or employed by the foreign missions of Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.” Additionally, the company allegedly accepted and processed orders that primarily consisted of low-value retail goods and services from persons listed on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons who were blocked pursuant to sanctions regulations involving the Democratic Republic of Congo, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, among others. These apparent violations occurred “primarily because [the company’s] automated sanctions screening processes failed to fully analyze all transaction and customer data relevant to compliance with OFAC’s sanctions regulations,” OFAC stated, claiming the company also “failed to timely report several hundred transactions conducted pursuant to a general license issued by OFAC that included a mandatory reporting requirement, thereby nullifying that authorization with respect to those transactions.”

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including that the apparent violations were non-egregious and (i) the company voluntarily disclosed the violations and cooperated with the investigation; and (ii) the company has undertaken significant remedial efforts to address the deficiencies and to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.

    OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the company failed to exercise due caution or care to ensure its sanctions screening process was able to properly flag transactions involving blocked persons and sanctioned jurisdictions. “This case demonstrates the importance of implementing and maintaining effective, risk-based sanctions compliance controls,” OFAC stated. “[G]lobal companies that rely heavily on automated sanctions screening processes should take reasonable, risk-based steps to ensure that their processes are appropriately configured to screen relevant customer information and to capture data quality issues.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Settlement Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons Compliance

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  • OFAC sanctions investors supporting Syrian government

    Financial Crimes

    On June 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against 24 individuals and entities for providing significant investment support to the Syrian government. According to OFAC, the designations include Treasury’s “first implementation of sanctions pursuant to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019,” and involve actions taken against a holding company, a private sector investment venture, and luxury tourism developments. Concurrent with OFAC’s sanctions, the U.S. State Department also designated 15 persons, including President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, pursuant to Executive Order 13984, which focuses on persons identified as “obstructing, disrupting, or preventing a ceasefire or a political solution to the Syrian conflict.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or those within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons,” and warned non-U.S. persons that engage in transactions with the designated persons may expose themselves to designation. OFAC also referenced a previously published Fact Sheet (covered by InfoBytes here), which highlights the most pertinent exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related​ sanctions programs to ensure humanitarian-related trade and assistance reaches at-risk populations through legitimate and transparent channels during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Syria Of Interest to Non-US Persons Covid-19

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  • Global advisory addresses illicit shipping and sanctions evasion practices

    Financial Crimes

    On May 14, the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, issued a global advisory warning the maritime industry of deceptive shipping practices used by Iran, North Korea, and Syria to evade economic sanctions. The “Sanctions Advisory for the Maritime Industry, Energy and Metals Sectors, and Related Communities” expands upon previously issued advisories and discusses due diligence approaches that entities, including financial institutions, should employ to monitor illicit activity and mitigate the risk of potentially engaging in prohibited activities or transactions. Among other things, the advisory provides a list of general compliance practices that may help entities “in more effectively identifying potential sanctions evasion.” These include: (i) institutionalizing sanctions compliance programs; (ii) establishing Automatic Identification System (AIS) best practices and contractual requirements to monitor for manipulations and disruptions, which may be an indication of potential illicit or sanctionable activity; (iii) monitoring ships throughout the entire transaction lifecycle, including those leased to third parties; (iv) knowing your customers and counterparties; (v) exercising supply chain due diligence; (vi) incorporating these best practices into contractual language; and (vii) engaging in industry information sharing of challenges, threats, and risk mitigation measures.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on global shipping advisories.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions Department of Treasury Department of State Of Interest to Non-US Persons North Korea Iran Syria

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  • OFAC clarifies North Korea SDNs

    Financial Crimes

    On May 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) provided clarifying text related to the modified North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enforcement Act (covered by InfoBytes here), which bars foreign subsidiaries of U.S. financial institutions from knowingly engaging in transactions with Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) identified under North Korea-related authorities. OFAC added the following text to 490 SDN records to assist the private sector in identifying persons that have been so designated: “Transactions Prohibited For Persons Owned or Controlled by U.S. Financial Institutions: North Korea Sanctions Regulations section 510.214.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions Of Interest to Non-US Persons North Korea

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