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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.”
Buckley Special Alert
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control last week issued a framework for OFAC Compliance Commitments, which, for the first time, outlines OFAC’s views on essential elements of a risk-based sanctions compliance program in a single document that can serve as a roadmap for organizations as they structure and evaluate these programs. The framework should be considered carefully by U.S. organizations with any significant foreign dealings, and foreign organizations that conduct business with the United States or that utilize U.S. goods, services, or financial systems.
The framework also makes clear that OFAC intends to target individual employees who are culpable for violations. That emphasis follows an action from earlier this year, where OFAC sanctioned an individual it deemed responsible for circumventing his employer’s compliance protocols.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
If you have questions about the OFAC’s new guidance or related issues, please visit our Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering & Sanctions practice page or contact a Buckley attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On May 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $871,837 settlement with a New York global shipping and logistics company, as well as its subsidiaries and affiliates, for five alleged violations of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations. The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s alleged processing of five electronic funds transfers pertaining to payments associated with blocked vessels identified on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals List.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, such as (i) the alleged violations constitute an egregious case and were not voluntarily self-disclosed; (ii) the company recklessly disregarded its obligations to comply with U.S. economic and trade sanctions; (iii) managers were aware of, and participated in, the conduct leading to the alleged violations; and (iv) the company is a global, commercially sophisticated company operating in a high-risk industry.
OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including that the company has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue, and the company cooperated with OFAC during the investigation and has undertaken remedial efforts to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.
On May 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the publication of A Framework for OFAC Compliance Commitments to provide guidance on the essential components of a risk-based sanctions compliance program (SCP) for organizations subject to U.S. jurisdiction, along with foreign entities that conduct business in or with the U.S. or U.S. persons, or use U.S.-origin goods or services. The framework highlights five essential compliance components that should be incorporated into an effective SCP: (i) senior management commitment; (ii) risk assessment “identifying potential OFAC issues” likely to be encountered; (iii) internal controls; (iv) testing and auditing; and (v) training. The framework notes that should an entity be subject to a civil monetary penalty (CMP), the Office of Compliance and Enforcement will determine, as appropriate, what other elements should be added to the entity’s SCP. In additional, OFAC states it will “consider favorably” entities that are able to demonstrate the existence of an effective SCP at the time of an apparent violation, which may mitigate a CMP and contribute towards the determination as to whether the violations are “deemed ‘egregious.’”
On April 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced regulations effective April 29 implementing Executive Order (E.O.) 13848. As previously covered by InfoBytes, E.O. 13848 was issued last September to authorize sanctions against foreign persons found to have engaged in, assisted, or otherwise supported foreign interference in U.S. elections. OFAC stated it intends to supplement the final rule with further regulations, “which may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance, general licenses, and statements of licensing policy.”
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