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On January 22, the Department of the Treasury published a request for comments on a proposed information collection designed to better understand cybersecurity risks facing the U.S. financial services sector and financial services critical infrastructure. The “Financial Sector Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Survey,” issued by the Department’s Office of Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure Protection (OCCIP), seeks feedback on ways to enhance resilience within the financial services sector and reduce operational risk. The proposal will also support OCCIP efforts to work collaboratively with industry and interagency partners on these strategies. Comments are due March 23.
OFAC identifies Venezuelan aircraft as blocked property, issues amended Venezuela-related general licenses
On January 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments to the list of property implicated by the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13884, which blocks the property of the Venezuelan government. OFAC identified 15 aircraft that either transported senior members of the Maduro regime or “operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner in proximity to U.S. military aircraft, while in international air space.” OFAC reiterated that its “regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.”
In connection with the designations, OFAC issued amended Venezuela General License (GL) 20B, titled “Authorizing Official Activities of Certain International Organizations Involving the Government of Venezuela.” GL 20B authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under E.O.s 13850 and 13857 involving Banco Central de Venezuela, and E.O. 13884 involving the Government of Venezuela.
Earlier, on January 17, OFAC issued two additional amended Venezuela GLs. GL 5B provides that on or after April 22, all transactions related to the financing for, and other dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela SA 2020 8.5 Percent Bond that would be prohibited under a certain subsection of E.O. 13835, as amended by E.O. 13857, are authorized. GL 8E, titled “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for Maintenance of Operations for Certain Entities in Venezuela,” supersedes GL 8D to extend the expiration date for certain authorizations through April 22.
On January 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Iran-related Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) 816, which addresses the question, “Is there a wind-down period for Executive Order [(E.O.)] 13902?” (previously covered in InfoBytes here). According to the FAQ, individuals and entities involved in activities that qualify as sanctionable under E.O. 13902, which include activities dealing with the mining, construction, manufacturing and textiles industries in Iran, should wind down those transactions within 90 days after the E.O. was issued. OFAC stresses that new engagements entered into with the specified Iranian sectors on or after January 10 will not be considered wind-down activities. These new engagements may be sanctionable during the wind-down period, even if the new engagements commence prior to the end of the 90-day wind-down period, which expires on April 9.
On January 14, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on a North Korean trading corporation and a China-based North Korean lodging facility for facilitating North Korea’s practice of sending laborers abroad. According to OFAC, North Korea’s continued practice of exporting North Koreans as illicit laborers is an ongoing attempt to undermine and evade United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The designated companies’ exportation of workers on behalf of the country, OFAC stated, has generated revenue for the North Korean government or the Workers’ Party of Korea. 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, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.
On January 10, the Trump administration issued new sanctions intended to deny the Iranian government revenues from the export of key economic products that may be used to fund its nuclear program. Specifically, newly-issued Executive Order 13902 authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in conjunction with the Secretary of State, to impose asset blocking sanctions on any person determined to operate in the construction, mining, manufacturing or textile sectors of the Iranian economy, or any additional sector as they may jointly determine. Additionally, EO 13902 authorizes the imposition of certain sanctions on any person determined to have engaged in, or any foreign financial institution determined to have knowingly facilitated, a significant transaction involving one of the aforementioned sectors of the Iranian economy.
On January 7, Representatives Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) and Gregory Meeks D-NY) sent a letter to nine federal financial regulators urging them to strengthen their financial infrastructures against possible cyber-attacks in the wake of recent threats against the U.S. from Iran and its allies following the killing of Iranian official Qasem Soleimani. The letter also requests that the regulators coordinate with law enforcement and regulated entities to increase information sharing surrounding cyber threats, and “communicate a strategy to further mitigate existing cyber vulnerabilities within [the U.S.] financial infrastructure by March.” The letter was sent to the Federal Reserve Board, Treasury Department, SEC, FDIC, CFPB, Federal Housing Finance Agency, Commodity Futures Trading Commission, National Credit Union Administration, and the OCC.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, NYDFS separately issued an Industry Letter on January 4 warning regulated entities about the “heightened risk” of cyber-attacks by hackers affiliated with the Iranian government. The letter provides recommendations for ensuring quick responses to any suspected cyber incidents, and reminds entities they must inform NYDFS “as promptly as possible but in no event later than 72 hours’ after a material cybersecurity event.”
On December 20, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), published a new Ukraine-/Russia-related FAQ. FAQ 815 explains that Section 7503 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, or the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 became effective immediately upon the President signing it on December 20. This section—entitled “Imposition of sanctions with respect to provision of certain vessels for the construction of certain Russian energy export pipelines”—specifies that parties who have knowingly provided vessels engaged in deep sea pipe laying for the Nord Stream 2 or Turkstream pipelines must ensure that such vessels cease such activity as soon as safely possible in order to protect human life and “avoid any environmental or other significant damage.”
On December 31, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas vacated a $2 million civil penalty imposed on a global petroleum company (company) by OFAC for the company’s purported violation of sanctions, ruling that the OFAC regulations did not provide “fair notice” to the company that its actions were prohibited. In May of 2014, OFAC issued sanctions regulations relating to Ukraine. Shortly afterwards, the company and a Russian oil company, with which it had a long-established business relationship, executed several contracts. Although the Russian company was not a blocked entity, its president, who signed the contracts, had been named a specially designated national (SDN). In July of 2014, OFAC issued a penalty notice with a $2 million penalty to the company, alleging that the contracts the company executed with the Russian company violated the Ukraine-related sanctions. The company immediately challenged the penalty notice and fine, asserting that at the time it entered into the subject transactions, the OFAC regulations on Ukraine were not clear, and it interpreted them to allow the transactions. The court agreed with the company, holding that the “text of the regulations does not provide fair notice of its interpretation” in accordance with the Due Process Clause, because “the text [of the regulation] does not ‘fairly address’ whether a U.S. entity receives a service from a SDN when that SDN performs a service enabling the U.S. person to contract with a non-blocked entity. Therefore, the court granted the company’s motion for summary judgment and vacated OFAC’s Penalty Notice.
On December 19, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued amended Iran General License (No. K-1), which permits transactions “ordinarily incident and necessary to the maintenance or wind down of transactions” involving certain shipping entities blocked by Executive Order 13846. In conjunction with the amendment, OFAC amended three Iran-related FAQs (FAQ 804, 806, and 807), which discuss whether sanctions on certain shipping tankers apply to their corporate parent and affiliates, the types of activities considered “maintenance” in General License K-1, and the processing of transactions by U.S. financial institutions involving a specific shipping tanker under General License K-1.
On December 12, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Finding of Violation to a now dissolved Texas-based aircraft maintenance company for alleged violations of the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR). According to OFAC, in 2016, the company negotiated and entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for aircraft maintenance with an Iranian commercial airline that was on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) for providing financial, material, and technological support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. Although the company was aware that the airline was on the SDN list, and in fact, had made the MOU contingent upon the airline being removed from the list, they incorrectly believed that Iran General License I (GL I) allowed them to negotiate and enter into the contingent contract. The GL I, however, excluded transactions and dealings with anyone, including the airline, whose property is blocked pursuant to Executive Order 13224. In deciding to issue a Finding of Violation, OFAC considered as mitigating factors that the company had not been issued a penalty or a Finding of Violation in at least five years prior to the alleged violations and that the company was a small company with financial problems that led to its bankruptcy and dissolution. OFAC also considered a number of aggravating factors including that the airline was a “high-profile entity identified on the SDN List,” that the company knew that the airline was on the SDN list, and that the company “engaged in a reckless violation of the law” by negotiating and entering an MOU with the airline. According to OFAC, had it not dissolved, the company would have been subject to “a strong civil monetary penalty.”
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