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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • OFAC sanctions nearly 100 Russian targets; prohibits Russian gold imports

    Financial Crimes

    On June 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 14024 and 14065 against 70 entities—many of which, according to OFAC, “are critical to the Russian Federation’s defense industrial base, including State Corporation Rostec, the cornerstone of Russia’s defense, industrial, technology, and manufacturing sector.” Twenty-nine Russian individuals were also designated. “We once again reaffirm our commitment to working alongside our partners and allies to impose additional severe sanctions in response to Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said. OFAC’s designations occurred in tandem with actions taken by the U.S. State Department, which include sanctions against an additional 45 entities and 29 individuals as well as visa restrictions against “officials believed to have threatened or violated Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence.” Additionally, OFAC immediately prohibited the importation of Russian gold into the U.S. (unless licensed or otherwise authorized by OFAC). As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons in the U.S. 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.” OFAC noted that U.S. persons are prohibited from participating in transactions with the sanctioned persons unless authorized by a general or specific license.

    A joint alert issued by FinCEN and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security also urged financial institutions to remain vigilant against Russian and Belarusian export control evasion and to take a “risk-based approach” for identifying potentially suspicious activity, such as end-use certificates, export documents, or letters of credit-based trade financing. “Financial institutions and the private sector continue to play a key role in disrupting Russia’s efforts to acquire critical goods and technology to support its war-making efforts,” OFAC stated in its announcement.

    On the same day, OFAC issued several new Russia-related general licenses (GL): (i) GL 39 authorizes the wind down of transactions ordinarily incident and necessary involving State Corporation Rostec that are normally prohibited by E.O. 14024; (ii) GL 40 authorizes “all transactions ordinarily incident and necessary to the provision, exportation, or reexportation of goods, technology, or services to ensure the safety of civil aviation involving one or more of” certain blocked entities; (iii) GL 41 authorizes certain transactions related to agricultural equipment that are normally prohibited by the Russian Harmful Foreign Activities Sanctions Regulations; (iv) GL 42 authorizes certain transactions with the Federal Security Services; and (v) GL 43 authorizes the divestment or transfer of debt or equity of, and wind down of derivative contracts involving the Public Joint Stock Company Severstal or Nord Gold PLC.

    OFAC also published a Determination Pursuant to Section 1(a)(i) of Executive Order 14068 concerning prohibitions related to the importation of Russian gold and issued one new and one amended frequently asked question.

    The Russian Elites, Proxies, and Oligarchs (REPO) Task Force also issued a joint statement summarizing actions taken by REPO members against sanctioned Russians. The efforts have led to more than $30 billion worth of sanctioned Russians’ assets being blocked or frozen and has heavily restricted sanctioned Russians’ access to the international financial system.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons Department of Treasury OFAC OFAC Designations OFAC Sanctions Russia Ukraine Ukraine Invasion Department of State FinCEN Department of Commerce

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  • FinCEN issues statement on independent ATM customer due diligence

    Financial Crimes

    On June 22, FinCEN issued a statement providing clarity to banks on the application of a risk-based approach to conducting customer due diligence (CDD) on independent Automated Teller Machine (ATM) owners or operators, consistent with FinCEN’s 2016 CDD Rule. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FinCEN issued a final rule imposing standardized CDD requirements for banks, broker-dealers, mutual funds, futures commission’s merchants, and brokers in commodities in May 2016. The rule established that covered institutions must identify any natural person that owns, directly or indirectly, 25 percent or more of a legal entity customer or that exercises control over the entity. The rule also established ongoing monitoring for reporting suspicious transactions and, on a risk basis, updating customer information. The recently released statement explained that the level of money laundering and terrorism financing risk varies with these customers, and that they do not automatically present a higher level of risk. FinCEN pointed to certain customer information that may be useful for banks in making determinations on the risk profile of independent ATM owner or operator customers, including, among other things: (i) organizational structure and management; (ii) operating policies, procedures, and internal controls; (iii) currency servicing arrangements; (iv) source of funds if a bank account is not used to replenish the ATM; and (v) description of expected and actual ATM activity levels.

    Financial Crimes Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FinCEN Customer Due Diligence ATM Terrorist Financing

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  • FinCEN issues statements on its lists of jurisdictions with AML/CFT/CPF deficiencies

    Financial Crimes

    On June 23, FinCEN announced that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued public statements updating its lists of jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering (AML), countering the financing of terrorism (CFT), and countering the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destructions (CPF). FATF’s statements include (i) Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring, “which publicly identifies jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT/CPF regimes that have committed to, or are actively working with, the FATF to address those deficiencies in accordance with an agreed upon timeline,” and (ii) High-Risk Jurisdictions Subject to a Call for Action, “which publicly identifies jurisdictions with significant strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT/CPF regimes and calls on all FATF members to apply enhanced due diligence, and, in the most serious cases, apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing risks emanating from the identified countries.” FinCEN’s announcement also informs members that FATF removed Malta from its list of Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring and added Gibraltar, and that its list of High-Risk Jurisdictions Subject to a Call for Action continues to subject Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the FATF’s countermeasures.

    Financial Crimes Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation Financing FATF FinCEN

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  • FinCEN issues warning on elder financial exploitation

    Federal Issues

    On June 15, FinCEN issued an advisory alerting financial institutions about the increase of elder financial exploitation (EFE). EFE involves the illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, among other things, and is often perpetrated either through theft or scams. According to the advisory, financial institutions filed 72,000 suspicious activity reports in 2021 related to EFE—an increase of 10,000 reports from 2020. The advisory provides updated typologies since FinCEN issued its first advisory on the issue in 2011, and highlights behavioral and financial red flags to aid financial institutions with identifying, preventing, and reporting suspected EFE. The announcement also refers to the risk-based approach to compliance under the Bank Secrecy Act, which provides that “[f]inancial institutions should perform additional due diligence where appropriate and remain alert to any suspicious activity that could indicate that their customers are perpetrators, facilitators, or victims of EFE.”

    Federal Issues Financial Crimes FinCEN Elder Financial Exploitation SARs Bank Secrecy Act

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  • U.S., UK collaborate on privacy-enhancing tech prize challenges

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On June 13, the White House announced that the U.S. and UK governments are developing privacy-enhancing technology prize challenges to help address cross-border money laundering. The White House highlighted that the estimated $2 trillion of cross-border money laundering which happens annually could be better detected if improvements were made to information sharing and collaborative analytic efforts. However, research shows that this process “is hindered by the legal, technical and ethical challenges involved in jointly analyzing sensitive information,” the White House said. Privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) could play a transformative role in addressing the global challenges of financial crime, the White House explained, noting that PETs can allow “machine learning models to be trained on high quality datasets collaboratively among organizations, without the data leaving safe environments.” Moreover, “[s]uch technologies have the potential to help facilitate privacy-preserving financial information sharing and analytics,” thus “allowing suspicious types of behavior to be identified without compromising the privacy of individuals, or requiring the transfer of data between institutions or across borders.” 

    Opening this summer, the challenges (developed between the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U.S. National Science Foundation, the UK’s Center for Data Ethics and Innovation, and Innovate UK) will allow innovators to develop state-of-the-art privacy-preserving federated learning solutions to help combat barriers to the wider use of these technologies without the uncertainty of potential regulatory implications. Innovators will engage with the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority and Information Commissioner’s Office and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Acting FinCEN Director Himamauli Das announced that the agency “is pleased to support this important initiative to advance the development of a building block for protecting the U.S. financial system from illicit finance.” 

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Financial Crimes Biden UK Of Interest to Non-US Persons FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering

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  • FinCEN issues ANPRM on no-action letter process

    Financial Crimes

    On June 3, FinCEN issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) soliciting comments on questions related to implementing a no-action letter process at the agency. The ANPRM is part of FinCEN’s implementation of the Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020, which directed the agency to conduct an assessment of a no-action letter process concerning how anti-money laundering or countering the financing of terrorism laws may apply to specific conduct. The ANPRM follows FinCEN’s June 2021 report to Congress (covered by InfoBytes here), which concluded that the agency should undertake rulemaking to establish a process for issuing no-action letters that will supplement its current forms of regulatory guidance and relief. FinCEN noted in its announcement that the addition of a no-action letter process (“generally understood to be a form of enforcement discretion where an agency states by letter that it will not take an enforcement action against the submitting party for the specific conduct presented to the agency”) could overlap with and “affect other forms of regulatory guidance and relief that FinCEN already offers, including administrative rulings and exceptive or exemptive relief.” The agency is seeking public input on whether the process should be implemented and, if so, how the process should work. Included in the ANPRM are questions concerning, among other things, FinCEN jurisdiction (specifically “[w]hat is the value of establishing a FinCEN no-action letter process if other regulators with jurisdiction over the same entity do not issue a similar no-action letter”), whether there should be limitations on which factual circumstances could be considered, and whether the scope of a no-action letter should be limited so that requests may not be submitted during a Bank Secrecy Act examination. The ANPRM also asked questions related to changes in circumstances, revocations, denials and withdrawals, confidentiality and consultation concerns, and criteria for distinguishing no-action letters from administrative rulings or exceptive/exemptive relief.

    Comments on the ANPRM are due August 5.

    Financial Crimes Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Of Interest to Non-US Persons FinCEN No Action Letter Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020 Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism Bank Secrecy Act

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  • FinCEN renews GTOs covering 12 metropolitan areas

    Financial Crimes

    On April 29, FinCEN reissued the renewal of its Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs). The GTOs require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies that pay “all cash” (i.e., the transaction does not involve external financing) for residential real estate in the 12 major metropolitan areas covered by the orders. The renewed GTOs are identical to the October 2021 GTOs (covered by InfoBytes here). The purchase amount threshold for the beneficial ownership reporting requirement remains set at $300,000 for residential real estate purchased in the covered areas. The renewed GTOs take effect April 30 and end October 26, and cover certain counties within the following areas: Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.

    FinCEN FAQs regarding GTOs are available here.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Of Interest to Non-US Persons Anti-Money Laundering GTO

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  • FinCEN to issue second beneficial ownership NPRM later this year

    Financial Crimes

    On April 28, FinCEN acting Director Himamauli Das informed the House Financial Services Committee during a hearing on the oversight of the agency that FinCEN is currently developing a second notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) this year proposing “regulations governing access to beneficial ownership information by law enforcement, national security agencies, financial institutions and others.” The NPRM will be published this year and follows a previous proposal to implement the beneficial ownership information reporting provisions of the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA), which addresses who must report beneficial ownership information, when to report it, and what information must be provided (covered by InfoBytes here). In his written testimony, Das stated the agency also plans to issue a third and final proposal revising the Customer Due Diligence (CDD) regulation for financial institutions “no later than one year after the effective date of the final reporting rule,” as required by the statute. “The CTA directs that the revisions should bring the CDD regulation into conformance with the beneficial ownership rules under the CTA and reduce unnecessary or duplicative requirements, among other things,” Das said. “We are considering all options as we develop the Access Rule NPRM, and look forward to receiving public comments on our proposal when it is issued.” Das also noted that FinCEN is currently developing the beneficial ownership database, which will allow users to search and access certain beneficial ownership information. However, Das warned that limited resources “have presented significant challenges to meeting the implementation requirements of [FinCEN’s] expanded mandate under the Anti-Money Laundering Act, including the CTA’s beneficial ownership requirements . . . we are missing deadlines, and we will likely continue to do so.”

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons FinCEN Beneficial Ownership Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Corporate Transparency Act Anti-Money Laundering Act of 2020

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  • FinCEN advises banks to detect foreign corrupt activity

    Financial Crimes

    On April 14, FinCEN issued an advisory on kleptocracy and foreign public corruption, urging financial institutions to direct their efforts on detecting the proceeds of foreign public corruption. The advisory provides typologies and potential indicators of kleptocracy and other forms of foreign public corruption, including bribery, embezzlement, extortion, and the misappropriation of public assets, and highlights financial red-flag indications of kleptocracy and foreign public corruption to assist banks in preventing, detecting, and reporting suspicious transactions. The announcement also refers to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Rewards Program, which offers rewards for information leading to seizure, restraint, or forfeiture of assets linked to foreign government corruption, including the Government of the Russian Federation (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons Corruption Russia SARs

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  • FinCEN fines company for willfully failing to comply with GTO

    Federal Issues

    On April 1, FinCEN announced its first enforcement action for failing to comply with the reporting and recordkeeping requirements of a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO). The 2014 GTO in question was designed to combat what FinCEN and the Department of Justice viewed as widespread trade-based money laundering in the Los Angeles Fashion District, in which businesses accepted bulk cash from Mexican drug trafficking organizations as part the black market peso exchange. The GTO required that a wide range of non-financial businesses within the Los Angeles Fashion District, including perfume stores, travel agencies, and electronics stores, report and keep records related to whether they “received currency in excess of $3,000 in one transaction or two or more related transactions in a 24-hour period.” FinCEN imposed a $275,000 penalty on a perfume company in the Los Angeles Fashion District for failure to report more than 114 covered transactions worth more than $2.3 million. According to FinCEN, these failures were first identified in a 2015 examination by the IRS. Later attempts made by the company to submit reports for the 114 transactions were declared “substantially incomplete,” as the reports, among other things, failed to include customer information or any indication that the cash payments were made on behalf of another person or business. The IRS rejected the reports and referred the matter to FinCEN, who conducted an investigation and determined that the company failed to comply with the reporting and recordkeeping requirements until long after it became aware of the GTO.

    The $275,000 civil money penalty was assessed based on a number of factors, including the company’s allegedly willful violations of the Bank Secrecy Act and the nature and seriousness of the violations, including the extent of possible public harm and the amounts involved. FinCEN noted that “[w]hile there is no direct evidence indicating that the unreported transactions involved illegal activity or the proceeds of illegal activity, the company’s failures were significant and led to the loss of valuable financial intelligence that could assist law enforcement efforts against significant money laundering activity on behalf of international drug trafficking organizations.” FinCEN also stated that the company’s actions impacted the agency’s mission to safeguard the financial system and target specific illicit financial threats, and that the company’s systemic failure to take any action in response to the GTO enabled them to continue.

    “FinCEN’s enforcement action puts nonfinancial trades and businesses on notice that they must comply with Geographic Targeting Orders,” FinCEN’s acting Director Himamauli Das stated. “This action also illustrates FinCEN’s long-standing efforts to partner with other government agencies to combat money laundering schemes designed to launder the proceeds of criminal activity through nonfinancial trades and businesses in the United States.”

    Federal Issues Financial Crimes FinCEN Enforcement Bank Secrecy Act GTO DOJ IRS

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