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On July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders 13894 and 13572 against eight Syrian prisons run by the Assad regime’s intelligence apparatus, as well as five senior security officials of regime entities that control these detention facilities. A Syrian armed group and two of the group’s leaders were also sanctioned. “Today’s designations promote accountability for abuses committed against the Syrian people and deny rogue actors access to the international financial system,” OFAC Director Andrea M. Gacki stated. “This action demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons are blocked, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” OFAC’s announcement further noted that OFAC regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons unless exempt or otherwise authorized by a general or specific license.
On July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against one Turkey-based al-Qa’ida financial facilitator for providing material assistance to al-Qa’ida and one Syria-based terrorist fundraiser and recruiter for providing material support to Hay’et Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS). According to OFAC, the designations “expose the continued efforts by al-Qa’ida and HTS to use the global formal financial system and highlight the need for continued vigilance against terrorist fundraising and recruitment on the internet.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individuals, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons,” that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC noted that OFAC regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons unless exempt or otherwise authorized by a general or specific license. Furthermore, OFAC cautioned that “engaging in certain transactions with the individuals designated today entails risk of secondary sanctions,” and warned foreign financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions on behalf of a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, OFAC may prohibit or impose strict conditions on their opening or maintaining of correspondent accounts or payable-through accounts in the U.S.
On July 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.4 million settlement with a New York-based online money transmitter for 2,260 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, between February 4, 2013 and February 20, 2018, the company allegedly processed 2,241 payments for parties located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions, including the Crimea region of Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as well as 19 payments on behalf of sanctioned persons identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Identified deficiencies in the company’s sanctions compliance program related to screening, testing, auditing, and transaction review procedures allowed persons in these jurisdictions and regions and those on the SDN List to engage in roughly $802,117.36 worth of transactions, OFAC stated. The apparent violations—related to commercial transactions that the company processed on behalf of its corporate customers and card-issuing financial institutions—allegedly occurred as a result of weak algorithms, business identifier code screening failures, backlogs, and a failure to monitor IP addresses or flag addresses in sanctioned locations.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the company failed to exercise sufficient caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations; (ii) the company had reason to know users were located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions based on common indications it had within its possession; and (iii) the apparent violations harmed six different sanctions program.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) senior management quickly self-disclosed the apparent violations upon discovery and provided substantial cooperation during the investigation; (ii) the company has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; and (iii) the company has taken remedial measures to minimize the risk of recurrence, including terminating the conduct leading to the apparent violations, retraining compliance employees, enhancing screening software, putting flagged transactions into a pending status rather than completing them, and conducting a daily review of customers’ and counter-parties’ identification documents.
On July 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against one Cuban individual and one Cuban entity under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, the sanctioned parties are connected with the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba that began on July 11. As a result of the sanctions, all transactions by U.S. persons or in the U.S. that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are generally prohibited. OFAC notes that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these persons, which include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”
On July 22, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Secretary Antony J. Blinken issued a joint statement commending the UK’s decision to impose additional anti-corruption sanctions under its Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions (GACS) regime. Specifically, the secretaries applauded actions taken by the UK against four corrupt individuals who were previously designated by the U.S., as well as a fifth individual “whose U.S.-based assets purchased with corrupt proceeds were successfully forfeited in U.S. courts.” Yellen and Blinken emphasized that sanctions regimes such as GACS and the U.S. Global Magnitsky sanctions program limit corrupt actors’ access to the international financial system, and added that the U.S. will continue to work with the UK and other allies and partners “to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who engage in corruption, as well as to protect the global financial system.”
On July 19, OFAC announced a $415,695 settlement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-based head regional office of a Sweden-based equipment company for apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). According to OFAC’s website notice, between 2015 and 2016, the UAE company allegedly conspired with Dubai- and Iran-based companies to export equipment from the U.S. to Iran. As a result, the UAE company caused its U.S.-based affiliate to indirectly export goods to Iran by incorrectly listing a Dubai-based company on its export documentation as the end-user. The conspiracy also allegedly included the organization of additional sales of the equipment in the same manner as the initial sale, which ultimately ended when the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security requested post-shipment verification that showed certain products in question were reexported to Iran.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the UAE company did not voluntarily self-disclose the apparent violations; (ii) the UAE company “willfully violated the ITSR” by conspiring to export goods from the U.S. to Iran by “obfuscating the end-user’s identity from its U.S. affiliate,” thus causing the U.S. affiliate to violate the ITSR; (iii) multiple managers had actual knowledge of the conduct giving rise to the apparent violations; and (iv) the UAE company “caused harm to the integrity of the ITSR by circumventing U.S. sanctions and conferring an economic benefit to Iran’s energy sector.”
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) none of the relevant subsidiaries, including the UAE company, have received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (ii) the UAE company, through the U.S. affiliate, conducted an internal investigation resulting in numerous remedial measures, including taking disciplinary actions against participating individuals, adopting an enhanced review and screening process for Iran-related transactions, and conducting additional in-person training; and (iii) the UAE company, through the U.S. affiliate, provided substantial cooperation to OFAC during the investigation.
OFAC separately reached a $16,875 settlement with a Virginia-based U.S. subsidiary for its apparent ITSR violations arising from this matter. The Virginia subsidiary did not voluntarily self-disclose the apparent violations, but agreed to the settlement on behalf of a former Pennsylvania-based subsidiary that allegedly referred a known Iranian business opportunity to its foreign affiliate in Dubai. This foreign affiliate, OFAC claimed, then “orchestrated a scheme to export goods” from the U.S. to Iran.
On July 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Venezuela-related General License (GL) 5G, “Authorizing Certain Transactions Related to the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. 2020 8.5 Percent Bond on or After October 21, 2021,” which replaces and supersedes GL 5F. GL 5G, however, does not authorize any transactions or activities otherwise prohibited by the Venezuela Sanctions Regulations. OFAC also amended related FAQ 595, which reminds parties that, until October 21, 2021, “transactions related to the sale or transfer of CITGO shares in connection with the PdVSA 2020 8.5 percent bond are prohibited, unless specifically authorized by OFAC.”
On July 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), along with the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, and Homeland Security, issued an advisory on the risks associated with actions carried out by the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government (PRC) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) that may impact U.S. companies operating in the Hong Kong SAR of the People’s Republic of China. The advisory divides risks into four categories: (i) risks for businesses following the imposition of the NSL; (ii) data privacy risks; (iii) risks regarding transparency and access to critical business information; and (iv) risks for businesses with exposure to sanctioned Hong Kong or PRC entities or individuals. As previously covered by InfoBytes, OFAC issued regulations implementing Executive Order (E.O.) 13936 issued last July. E.O. 13936, among other things, targets and authorizes the imposition of sanctions on persons who materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support to activities contributing to the undermining of Hong Kong’s democracy and autonomy (covered by InfoBytes here). In addition to the advisory, OFAC added several individuals and entities to its Specially Designated Nationals List.
On July 15, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced it will host a “FinCEN Exchange” in August with representatives from financial institutions, other key industry stakeholders, and federal government agencies to discuss continuing concerns regarding ransomware. According to FinCEN, the exchange builds upon FinCEN’s November 2020 event regarding ransomware and “will assist its government and private sector partners to inform next steps to address ransomware and focus resources to mitigate the threat.” FinCEN also notes that ransomware attacks are a growing concern and efforts to detect and report ransomware payments are “vital to prevent and deter ransomware attacks.” Recent efforts by FinCEN to do just that include issuing two advisories in October 2020 to aid U.S. individuals and businesses in combating ransomware scams and attacks (covered by InfoBytes here) and issuing the first government-wide priorities for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism policy pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 in June (covered by InfoBytes here).
On July 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), along with the Departments of State, Commerce, Homeland Security, and Labor, as well as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, issued an updated advisory on the risks for businesses with possible exposure in their supply chain to entities involved in human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Region. The recent advisory updates the original version released in July 2020 (covered by InfoBytes here), which was issued after OFAC announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against a Chinese government entity and four current or former government officials for alleged corruption violations of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The updated advisory outlines risks to be considered when “assessing business partnerships with, investing in, sourcing from, or providing other support to companies operating in Xinjiang, linked to Xinjiang, or with laborers from Xinjiang.”
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