Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On October 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13848 against five Iranian entities for allegedly attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process. According to OFAC, these designations are intended to “counter efforts” from foreign actors that “spread disinformation online and execut[e] malign influence operations aimed at misleading U.S. voters.” Three of the entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), are designated “for having directly or indirectly engaged in, sponsored, concealed, or otherwise been complicit in foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.” Two other entities are designated for being owned or controlled by the IRGC-QF, which, along with the IRGC, has been designated under a number of authorities since 2007. As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to, or owned by, the designated persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “any entities 50 percent or more owned by one or more designated persons are also blocked.”
The same day, OFAC also sanctioned an IRGC-QF general pursuant to E.O. 13224 for allegedly “exploit[ing] his position as the Iranian regime’s ambassador in Iraq to obfuscate financial transfers conducted for the benefit of the IRGC-QF.” According to OFAC, the designated individual, among other things, allegedly facilitated financial transfers benefiting the IRGC-QF, and helped “IRGC-QF obtain foreign currency in Iraq, in return for equivalent sums that the IRGC-QF in Iran has transferred to relevant entities.”
As a result of OFAC’s recent actions, all property and interests in property belonging to, or owned by, the designated persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked. U.S. persons are also “generally prohibited from engaging in transactions” with the designated individuals. OFAC further warned foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitating significant transactions or providing significant support to the designated entities may subject them to sanctions and could terminate access to the U.S. financial system.
On October 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 against two members of Hizballah’s Central Council, which supports Hizballah’s activities by identifying and electing council members that assert control over policies and military initiatives. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the individuals, “and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons, 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 noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated individuals, including “the making of any contribution of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution of funds, goods or services from any such person.” OFAC further warned that engaging in certain transactions with the designated individuals subjects persons to the risk of secondary sanctions pursuant to E.O. 13224 and the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015. Furthermore, OFAC noted that it has the authority to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah or on behalf of a designated terrorist group, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.”
On October 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated an al-Qa’ida facilitator based in Australia and the company he owns for “having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” the terrorist organization, pursuant to Executive Order 13224. Specifically, OFAC alleges that the individual and his company are involved in gemstone dealings, which provide the ability to move funds internationally for the benefit of al-Qa’ida. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC further warned foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitating significant transactions or providing significant financial services to the designated person or entity may subject them to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.
On October 23, the U.S. Department of Treasury announced that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded its plenary meeting, in which it adopted new standards on proliferation financing. Specifically, FATF adopted amendments to Recommendation 1 and its Interpretive Note that require countries and the private sector to assess and mitigate risks related to “the potential breach, non-implementation or evasion of United Nations (UN) targeted financial sanctions related to proliferation financing.” Treasury notes that the enhanced standards will arm financial institutions and other covered entities with targeted information that can be used to detect shell companies and other entities acting on behalf of designated persons.”
Additionally, FATF noted it will continue its work to identify and assess how cybercriminals are exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic, including the increase in counterfeiting and fraud related to stimulus measures. Lastly, among other things, Treasury notes that FATF adopted a new report on Trade Based Money Laundering (TBML), which has yet to be published, but reportedly “aims to assist both the public and private sectors to better identify and disrupt TBML activity using a risk-based approach.”
On October 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13851 against a Nicaraguan financial institution, as well as two government officials for supporting the Ortega regime, which “continue[s] to undermine Nicaragua’s democracy.” According to OFAC, the financial institution served as a tool for Ortega to “siphon money from  $2.4 billion in oil trusts and credit portfolios…in order to remain in power and pay a network of patronage.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals and entities, and any entities owned 50 percent or more by such persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with the sanctioned persons.
On October 8, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, sanctioned 18 major Iranian banks, consistent with E.O. 13902, which identified Iran’s financial sector “as an additional avenue that funds the Iranian government’s malign activities.” E.O. 13902 provides Treasury with the authority to sanction any Iranian financial institution. The sanctioned banks include 16 banks operating in Iran’s financial sector and one bank that is owned or controlled by a sanctioned Iranian bank. In addition, OFAC sanctioned an Iranian military-affiliated bank under Treasury’s counter-proliferation authority pursuant to E.O. 13382. “Today’s action to identify the financial sector and sanction eighteen major Iranian banks reflects our commitment to stop illicit access to U.S. dollars,” Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin stated. OFAC noted that the sanctions under E.O. 13902 do not affect existing authorizations and exceptions for humanitarian trade (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), “which remain in full force and effect for these seventeen banks.”
As a result, all property and interests in property of the designated entities that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with the designated entities. OFAC is providing a 45-day period for non-U.S. persons to wind down non-humanitarian transactions that may become subject to sanctions as a result of the designations. OFAC further warned that “financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned entities after a 45-day wind-down period may expose themselves to secondary sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action.”
Concurrent with the action, OFAC issued General License L, which outlines transactions and activities involving the sanctioned entities “that are authorized, exempt, or otherwise not prohibited under the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.” Additional guidance is also provided in recently issued FAQs.
On October 13, the Small Business Administration (SBA) updated the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness FAQs to include a new question covering the PPP loan forgiveness application forms (3508, 3508EZ, and 3508S). Specifically, the SBA notes that even though the application forms display an expiration date of October 31, that is not a deadline to apply for forgiveness. Rather, the date posted on the forms is displayed for Paperwork Reduction Act purposes and will be extended when the same forms are re-approved. Borrowers may submit loan forgiveness applications any time before the maturity date of the loan, which can be either two or five years after origination.
On October 8, the Small Business Administration (SBA), in consultation with the U.S. Treasury Department, announced a more streamlined loan forgiveness application for Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans of $50,000 or less. According to the interim final rule released with the application and application instructions, lenders may rely on the borrower representations of the forgiveness amount, stating that a “lender does not need to independently verify the borrower’s reported information if the borrower submits documentation supporting its request for loan forgiveness and attests that it accurately verified the payments for eligible costs.” Moreover, should a borrower apply for forgiveness of costs exceeding the borrower’s PPP loan amount, the lender should confirm the borrower’s calculations on the loan forgiveness application, “up to the amount required to reach the requested [f]orgiveness [a]mount.” The SBA notes that it began approving PPP forgiveness applications and remitting payments to lenders on October 2 and “will continue to process all PPP forgiveness applications in an expeditious manner.”
Additionally, on October 7, the SBA updated the PPP FAQs to add a question on the payment deferral extension granted by the PPP Flexibility Act. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the PPP Flexibility Act extends the six-month payment deferral period to at least 10 months after the program expires. Specifically, the FAQs confirm that the extension of the deferral period will automatically apply to all PPP loans, requiring lenders to “give immediate effect to the statutory extension and  notify borrowers of the change to the deferral period.” Moreover, the FAQs emphasize that the SBA does not require a formal modification of the promissory note.
On October 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a more than $5.8 million settlement with a New York-incorporated travel assistance services company to resolve 2,593 apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, from roughly June 2010 to January 2015, the company formally codified an indirect payment process in its procedures manual, in which it “intentionally referred” Cuba-related payments to a Canadian affiliate to avoid “processing reimbursement payments directly to Cuban parties and to travelers while they were located in Cuba.” Reimbursements were then sent from the company to the Canadian affiliate for those payments. While the company had a sanctions compliance policy during the time of the apparent violations to screen for individuals or entities on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, it allegedly failed to comply with screening requirements for countries and regions subject to OFAC prohibitions.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) knew it was illegal to make direct payments to Cuban service providers and therefore formalized the aforementioned referral process; (ii) provided “prohibited post-travel claim reimbursements directly to unauthorized Canadian subscribers who travelled to Cuba”; and (iii) knew of the conduct at issue because the indirect payment process was codified and approved by its CEO.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the CACR was later amended to authorize some of the apparent violations; (ii) the company enhanced its sanctions compliance program by, among other things, implementing a formal structure for compliance personnel and conducting sanctions training for all employees; (iii) the company voluntarily disclosed the violations and signed a tolling agreement, including multiple extensions; and (iv) the company terminated the conduct leading to the apparent violations and has undertaken remedial measures to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.
On October 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Venezuela General License (GL) 5E, which supersedes GL 5D and authorizes certain transactions otherwise prohibited under Executive Orders 13835 and 13857 related to, or that provide financing for, dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. 2020 8.5 Percent Bond on or after January 19, 2021. Concurrently, OFAC amended a Venezuela-related frequently asked question regarding GL 5E.
- Magda Gathani to discuss "Cryptocurrency meets banks" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series
- Garylene D. Javier to moderate "Innovation in an evolving privacy landscape" at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Consumer Financial Services Committee Winter Meeting
- Buckley Webcast: What’s next for privacy and data security in 2021 and beyond?
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Diversity & inclusion: Litigation and enforcement" at the Tri-State Mortgage Conference