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On June 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced additions to the Specially Designated Nationals List pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13573 and 13582. OFAC’s additions to the list include 13 entities and three individuals associated with an international network benefiting the Assad regime in Syria. According to OFAC, a Syrian business developer and his associated businesses have “leveraged the atrocities of the Syrian conflict into a profit-generating enterprise.” As a result, “all property and interests in property of these individuals and entities that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.”
See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Syria.
On June 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced an approximately $400,000 settlement with a global money services business for alleged violations of the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the money services business' processing of certain transactions totaling roughly $1.275 million. According to OFAC, the transactions were paid out to third-party, non-designated beneficiaries who collected their remittances from a company in Gambia that OFAC designated pursuant to the GTSR in December 2010. Notwithstanding this designation, the money services business continued processing payments to the company until March 2015. In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including the fact that the money services business voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC. OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the money services business could have identified that the company was a sanctions target with the exercise of reasonable due diligence.
On June 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Iran’s largest petrochemical holding group for providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), an entity targeted for sanctions under OFAC’s Iran-related sanctions. In addition, OFAC designated the holding group’s network of 39 subsidiary petrochemical companies and foreign-based sales agents. According to OFAC, profits derived from the holding group’s activities “support the IRGC’s full range of nefarious activities, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction . . . and their means of delivery, support for terrorism, and a variety of human rights abuses, at home and abroad.”
As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from transacting with them. Moreover, OFAC warned foreign financial institutions that they may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions—which, if imposed, could restrict their access to the U.S. financial system—if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated entities. OFAC further issued a reminder that as of November 5, 2018, purchasing, acquiring, selling, transporting, or marketing petrochemical products from Iran is sanctionable under OFAC’s sanctions against Iran (covered by InfoBytes here).
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On May 29, the Department of Treasury announced the establishment of a Financial Innovation Partnership (FIP) between the U.S. and the UK. The FIP will focus on expanding bilateral financial services collaborative efforts to study emerging fintech innovation trends and share information and expertise on regulatory practices. Specifically, the FIP will focus on (i) regulatory engagement, including building upon “existing regulatory cooperation by discussing regulatory developments and sharing experiences on technical issues related to innovation in financial services,” and (ii) commercial engagement, such as providing cross-border opportunities for private sector companies to engage with industry associations as well as market participants. The FIP was announced during a meeting of the U.S.-UK Regulatory Working Group, which, a week earlier, held discussions in Washington, D.C. on the outlook for financial regulatory reforms, future priorities, regulatory cooperation, and possible implications of the UK’s exit from the EU on financial stability and cross-border financial regulation.
OFAC issues Finding of Violation, no penalties, against bank for alleged Iranian sanctions violations
On May 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a Finding of Violation against a U.S. bank, acting as a trustee for a customer, for violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). According to the announcement, OFAC’s Finding of Violation was based on the fact that the bank processed at least 45 pension payments totaling over $11,000 to a U.S. citizen with a U.S. bank account, but who was residing in Iran. According to OFAC, the bank appears to have known that it was processing payments for the benefit of a person in Iran, not only because its internal system indicated that the individual’s address was located in Tehran, but also because the bank’s sanctions screening software produced an alert on each of the 45 payments. These alerts, however, were reviewed by compliance personnel who were not sanctions specialists instead of the bank’s central sanctions compliance unit. After learning of and reporting the issue to OFAC, the bank modified its review and reporting process to ensure that retirement payments are screened by the right screening platform and that sanctions alerts are handled through the appropriate process, including review by compliance specialists with expertise in sanctions.
When issuing a Finding of Violation against the bank, as opposed to a civil money penalty, OFAC considered the fact that, among other things, (i) no managers or supervisors appear to have been aware of the conduct that led to the violations; (ii) the payments at issue may not have actually been transferred to Iran; (iii) the bank took remedial action in response to the violations; and (iv) the bank cooperated with OFAC by self-disclosing the alleged violations and agreeing to tolling the matter with extensions.
On May 21, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Combating Illicit Financing By Anonymous Shell Companies Through the Collection of Beneficial Ownership Information.” The Committee heard from the same panel of witnesses who testified in November on the need for modernization of the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering regime. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Committee Chairman Mike Crapo opened the hearing by stressing the need to discuss ways in which beneficial ownership information collected in an effort to deter money laundering and terrorist financing through anonymous shell companies can be made more useful. Panelists from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the FBI, and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency all emphasized the importance of creating a regime in which beneficial ownership is collected at the corporate formation stage and, for foreign entities, upon the time of registration with U.S. states to conduct business or upon establishing an account with a U.S. financial institution.
OFAC imposes additional oil sector sanctions connected to Venezuela’s defense and intelligence sector
On May 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had determined that persons operating in Venezuela’s defense and security sector may be subject to sanctions. Additionally, OFAC imposed sanctions against two companies for their alleged involvement in the transportation of oil from Venezuela to Cuba, which provides support to former President Maduro’s defense and intelligence sector. According to the Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin, “[OFAC’s] action today puts Venezuela’s military and intelligence services, as well as those who support them, on notice that their continued backing of the illegitimate Maduro regime will be met with serious consequences.” Furthermore, OFAC also referred financial institutions to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2019-A002, FIN-2017-A006, and FIN-2018-A003 for further information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds, as well as human rights abuses connected to corrupt foreign political figures and their financial facilitators.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On May 9, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued new guidance designed to consolidate and clarify current FinCEN regulations, guidance, and administrative rulings related to money transmissions involving virtual currency. FinCEN noted that the guidance, “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Certain Business Models Involving Convertible Virtual Currencies (CVC),” serves to “remind persons subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) how FinCEN regulations relating to money services businesses (MSBs) apply to certain business models involving money transmission denominated in value that substitutes for currency, specifically, convertible virtual currencies (CVCs).” The guidance does not create any new expectations but instead “applies the same interpretive criteria to other common business models involving CVC.” These business models include peer-to-peer exchangers, CVC wallets, CVC money transmission services through electronic terminals (CVC kiosks), decentralized (or distributed) applications (DApp), anonymity-enhanced CVC transactions, CVC payment processors, and internet casinos. Finally, the guidance also specifies specific business models that may be exempt from the definition of a money transmitter. The same day, FinCEN also issued an “Advisory on Illicit Activity Involving Convertible Virtual Currency” to highlight threats posed by the criminal exploitation of CVCs for money laundering, sanctions evasion, and other illicit financing purposes, and to provide identification and reporting guidance for financial institutions.
President Trump issues new Iran Executive Order targeting Iran's metal sector; OFAC publishes related FAQs
On May 8, President Trump issued Executive Order 13871 (E.O. 13871) authorizing the imposition of sanctions on persons determined to operate in Iran’s iron, steel, aluminum, and copper sectors. The order is intended to target sectors of the Iranian economy that OFAC has identified as providing “funding and support for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist groups and networks, campaigns of regional aggression, and military expansion.” Among other things, E.O. 13871 authorizes the Secretaries of Treasury and State to impose sanctions on a foreign financial institution if it is determined that it has knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant financial transactions in these sectors, or for or on behalf of a blocked person. These sanctions are intend to curtail such institutions’ access to the U.S. financial system by prohibiting the opening of, or impose strict conditions on maintaining, a correspondent account or payable-through account by such foreign financial institutions in the United States.
The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a set of FAQs connected to the issuance of E.O. 13871, including a discussion of the relevant 90-day wind-down period for affected transactions as well as sanction exceptions.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.
On May 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it removed sanctions imposed on a former high-ranking Venezuelan official in the Maduro regime after he broke ties with the regime. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the sanctions were imposed in February of this year pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13692. As a result of the removal, any otherwise lawful transactions involving U.S. persons and the individual are no longer prohibited. OFAC emphasized that the action “demonstrates that U.S. sanctions need not be permanent and are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior,” and further “shows the good faith of the [U.S.] that removal of sanctions may be available for designated persons who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, or combat corruption in Venezuela.”
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Regulatory changes: Proposed AML regulatory changes, marijuana banking and hemp/CBD" at the ACAMS Carolinas Chapter AML and OFAC Symposium-Technology and Hot Topics
- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "Navigating the challenges of the latest data protection regulations and proven protocols for breach prevention and response" at the ACI National Forum on Consumer Finance Class Actions and Government Enforcement
- Buckley Webcast: Flirting with alternatives — Opportunities and challenges created by alternative data, modeling, and technology
- Daniel P. Stipano and Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Vendor management: What is the NCUA looking for?" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Reporting requirements for credit unions: CTRs and SARs" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions BSA Seminar
- Sasha Leonhardt and John B. Williams to discuss "Privacy" at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions Summer Regulatory Compliance School
- Warren W. Traiger to discuss "CRA modernization" at the National Association of Industrial Bankers and the Utah Association of Financial Services Annual Convention
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss "Requirements for banking inherently high-risk relationships" at the Georgia Bankers Association BSA Experience Program
- Hank Asbill to discuss "Ethical guidance in conducting internal investigations – The intersection of Yates and Upjohn" at the American Bar Association Southeastern White Collar Crime Institute
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "RESPA Section 8/referrals: How do you stay compliant?" at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference
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- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Lessons learned from recent enforcement actions and CMPs" at the ACAMS AML & Financial Crime Conference
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- Amanda R. Lawrence to discuss "How to balance a successful (and stressful) career with greater personal well-being" at the American Bar Association Women in Litigation Joint CLE Conference