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On October 30, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the seven member nations of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) have jointly designated 25 targets for allegedly supporting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hizballah, as part of Treasury’s efforts to “bolster the fight against terrorist financing.” The targets include 21 entities that comprise a “vast network of businesses providing financial support to the Basij Resistance Force” through the use of shell companies and other measures within Iran’s automotive, mining, metals, and banking industries, along with four Hizballah-affiliated individuals allegedly involved in related financial activities in Iraq. The seven members—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.—coordinate disruptive actions, share financial intelligence information, and enhance member state capacity in order to target activities posing national security threats to TFTC members, including the disruption of financial networks used to fund terrorism.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on actions involving Iran and Hizballah.
On October 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued amended Venezuela General License (GL) 5A to highlight a delay in effectiveness and clarify that prior to January 22, 2020, certain transactions related to the financing for, and other dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela SA 2020 8.5 Percent Bond are prohibited under Executive Orders 13835 and 13857, unless specifically authorized by OFAC. OFAC also published a new FAQ to provide additional guidance on the reason for the issues of GL 5A.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
FinCEN final rule designates Iran a primary money laundering concern; new Treasury and State department mechanism to make humanitarian trade more transparent
On October 25, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the issuance of a final rule by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) to impose a fifth special measure against Iran as a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA Patriot Act. The final rule prohibits U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining a correspondent account on behalf of an Iranian financial institution, and also prohibits U.S. financial institutions from processing transactions involving Iranian financial institutions. The final rule takes effect ten days after publication in the Federal Register.
FinCEN stated that its action is based on Iran’s abuse of the international financial system, including providing support for terrorist groups such as Hizballah and HAMAS, and builds upon Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) September designation of Iran’s central bank for providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, its Qods Force, and Hizballah (previous InfoBytes coverage here). Additionally, FinCEN determined that the Iranian regime continues to engage in deceptive financial practices through the use of front companies and shell companies, among other things, to facilitate military purchases. These actions, FinCEN noted, are “further compounded by Iran’s continued failure to adequately address its AML/CFT deficiencies, as identified by the Financial Action Task Force,” which recently re-imposed countermeasures and enhanced due diligence strategies on Iran and “called on its members and urged all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to apply enhanced due diligence with respect to business relationships and transactions with natural and legal persons from Iran.” (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
Concurrent with the imposition of the fifth special measure, Treasury and the U.S. Department of State announced a new mechanism to increase the transparency of humanitarian trade with Iran that will establish processes for participating foreign governments and financial institutions when conducting enhanced due diligence designed to mitigate the higher risks associated with Iran-related transactions. OFAC’s guidance outlines due diligence and reporting requirements for participating entities, and stipulates that “[p]rovided that foreign financial institutions commit to implement stringent enhanced due diligence steps, the framework will enable them to seek written confirmation from Treasury that the proposed financial channel will not be exposed to U.S. sanctions.”
On October 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced General License (GL) 8D, titled “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for Maintenance of Operations for Certain Entities in Venezuela,” which supersedes GL 8C to extend the expiration date through January 22, 2020.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On October 18, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had convened the first meeting of the Counter-Hizballah International Partnership (CHIP) involving representatives from over 30 countries. CHIP participants discussed methods to diminish Hizballah’s exploitation of the international financial system to fund terrorist activities and stressed the importance of building momentum and ensuring coordination of efforts. Impact-oriented considerations included: (i) establishing cross-border information sharing among financial intelligence units; (ii) “strengthening terrorism finance risk assessments”; (iii) creating “targeted financial sanctions regimes;” and (iv) prosecuting terrorists and their affiliated financial facilitators.
Find continuing InfoBytes coverage related to Hizballah here.
On October 18, the U.S. Treasury Department released a public statement issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) following the conclusion of its plenary meeting held October 16-18. Topics discussed by attendees included Iranian terrorist financial risks, guidance related to “stablecoins” and virtual assets, and reports related to anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). Specifically, the FATF discussed the re-imposition of countermeasures on Iran as well as enhanced due diligence strategies due to the country’s AML/CFT deficiencies. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the FATF issued a public statement last June that called upon members and urged all jurisdictions to require increased supervisory examination for branches and subsidiaries of financial institutions based in Iran. Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Marshall Billingslea issued a statement in Treasury’s press release that “countries will be called upon to impose further financial restrictions to protect the international financial system if Iran hasn’t ratified and fully implemented the key treaties related to fighting money laundering and terrorist financing.”
The FATF also issued a public statement to clarify that standards adopted last June (InfoBytes coverage here) apply to “stablecoins” and their service providers. Additionally, the FATF adopted changes to its methodology on how it will assess whether countries are complying with the relevant requirements. Specifically, the FATF noted in the plenary meeting outcomes that “assessments will specifically look at how well countries have implemented these measures. Countries that have already undergone their mutual evaluation must report back during their follow-up process on the actions they have taken in this area.”
Additionally, the FATF (i) provided an updated report on measures for combating ISIL and Al-Qaeda financing; (ii) called upon all countries to apply countermeasures on North Korea due to ongoing AML/CFT and weapons of mass destruction proliferation financing risks to the international financial system; and (iii) noted it will publish reports by year end related to AML/CFT and counter-proliferation financing legal frameworks for both Russia and Turkey, along with a review of implementation measures undertaken by the countries.
On October 17, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, and NCUA published a proposed interagency policy statement on allowances for credit losses and proposed interagency guidance on credit risk review systems.
The proposed policy statement describes the measurement of expected credit losses under the current expected credit losses (CECL) methodology for determining allowances for credit losses applicable to financial assets measured at amortized costs. It will apply to financial assets measured at amortized cost, loans held-for-investment, net investments in leases, held-to-maturity debt securities, and certain off-balance-sheet credit exposures. The proposed policy statement also stipulates financial assets for which the CECL methodology is not applicable, and includes supervisory expectations for designing, documenting, and validating expected credit loss estimation processes. Once finalized, the proposed policy would be effective at the time of each institution’s adoption of CECL.
The proposed credit risk review systems guidance—which is relevant to all institutions supervised by the agencies—will update the 2006 Interagency Policy Statement on the Allowance for Loan and Lease Losses to reflect the CECL methodology. The proposed guidance “discusses sound management of credit risk, a system of independent, ongoing credit review, and appropriate communication regarding the performance of the institution's loan portfolio to its management and board of directors.” Furthermore, the proposed guidance stresses that financial institution employees involved with assessing credit risk should be independent from an institution’s lending function.
Comments on both proposals are due December 16.
On October 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against four members of a corruption network in South Africa for alleged corruption violations of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, the four individuals “leveraged [their] political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities.
On September 23, Department of Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich delivered remarks at the 2019 Treasury Market Structure Conference. He discussed broadly the Department’s domestic and international finance priorities, including housing finance reform, digital taxation, cryptocurrency, and securities. Muzinich first addressed Treasury’s housing finance reform plan released September 5 (previously covered by InfoBytes here), stating that the “plan includes nearly 50 recommended legislative and administrative reforms that are incremental, realistic, and balanced, and aim to preserve widespread and affordable access to the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage.” With respect to digital taxation, Muzinich discussed the disproportionate effect of taxing digital businesses’ revenue on U.S. firms, and stated that the Department is actively seeking a multilateral solution. He next addressed several concerns regarding the use of cryptocurrency to evade existing legal frameworks, such as those governing taxation, anti-money laundering, and countering the financing of terrorism. Muzinich emphasized that the existing legal frameworks “apply to digital assets in no uncertain terms,” and referred to guidance released by the Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which clarified that U.S. sanctions compliance obligations are the same regardless of whether a transaction is denominated in digital currency or traditional fiat currency (previously covered by InfoBytes here.) Muzinich noted, however, that there still exist several concerns that the government must consider regarding the effect cryptocurrency has on financial stability, the monetary base, consumer protection and privacy. The Deputy Secretary noted that these issues are being discussed both internationally and domestically. Muzinich closed his remarks by discussing the securities market and announced, among other things, that the Department is working with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority to begin publicly releasing aggregated data on Treasury volumes, which will ensure that all market participants have access to the same comprehensive data.
On September 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13850 against four entities for their alleged involvement in the transportation of oil from Venezuela to Cuba. According to OFAC, the entities’ actions offer support to the Maduro regime and “enable its repressive security and intelligence apparatus.” In addition, OFAC identified four vessels as blocked property owned by the identified entities. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.” OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with blocked or designated persons.
Additionally, the announcement notes that OFAC is delisting two entities in recognition of their actions to ensure that their vessels are not complicit in supporting the Maduro regime. As a result of the delisting, all property and interest of the entities are now unblocked and lawful transactions involving U.S. persons are no longer prohibited.
Since OFAC’s designation of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company last January, the department has sanctioned several entities and individuals connected to Venezuela’s oil sector. Continuing InfoBytes coverage on these actions can be found here.
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