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On January 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13J, 14E, and 16E, which modify the expiration dates of previous Ukraine-based general licenses for wind-down transactions for certain companies that otherwise would be prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.
GL 13J supersedes GL 13I and authorizes, among other things, activities and transactions “ordinarily incident and necessary” for (i) the divestiture of the holdings of specified blocked persons to a non-U.S. person; and (ii) the facilitation of transfers of debt, equity, or other holdings involving specified blocked persons to a non-U.S. person. GL 14E, which supersedes GL 14D, relates to specific wind-down activities involving a Russian aluminum producer sanctioned last April as previously covered by InfoBytes here. GL 16E supersedes GL 16D and authorizes permissible activities with the designated company and its subsidiaries, and applies to the maintenance and wind-down of operations, contracts, and agreements that were effective prior to April 6.
OFAC adds illicit foreign exchange operation participants to Specially Designated Nationals List; issues Venezuela-related General License and new FAQ
On January 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced additions to the Specially Designated Nationals List pursuant to Executive Order 13850. OFAC’s additions to the list include seven individuals—including former Venezuelan government officials—and 23 entities for their participation in a bribery scheme involving the Venezuelan Office of the National Treasury in order to conduct illicit foreign exchange operations in the country. According to OFAC, the designated persons engaged in transactions involving deceptive practices and corruption, including wiring payments that were “hidden behind a sophisticated network of U.S. and foreign companies that hid the individuals’ beneficial ownership.” As a result, all assets belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Venezuela sanctions.
On December 20, the U.S. Treasury Department issued the National Strategy for Combating Terrorist and Other Illicit Financing (the National Illicit Finance Strategy). Pursuant to Sections 261 and 262 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA), the National Illicit Finance Strategy describes current U.S. government efforts to combat domestic and international illicit finance threats in the areas of terrorist financing, proliferation financing, and money laundering, and discusses potential risks, priorities and objectives, as well as areas for improvement. The document addresses the strengths of U.S. counter-illicit finance efforts, including the legal and regulatory framework, as well as efforts undertaken to improve the effectiveness of national safeguards currently in place due to changes in technology and emerging threats. Recent efforts include a working group formed earlier in December to explore ways to modernize the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering regulatory regime and encourage banks and credit unions to explore innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence, digital identity technologies, and internal financial intelligence units to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial threats when safeguarding the financial system (see previous InfoBytes coverage here).
On December 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13I and 15D, which extend the expiration date of previous Ukrainian-based general licenses to March 7, 2019 for wind-down transactions for certain companies that otherwise would be prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.
GL 13I supersedes GL 13H and authorizes, among other things, activities and transactions “ordinarily incident and necessary” for (i) the divestiture of the holdings of specified blocked persons to a non-U.S. person; and (ii) the facilitation of transfers of debt, equity, or other holdings involving specified blocked persons to a non-U.S. person. GL 15D, which supersedes GL 15C, relates to permissible activities with the designated company and its subsidiaries, and applies to the maintenance and wind-down of operations, contracts, and agreements that were effective prior to April 6.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine sanctions.
On December 17, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and the SEC announced separate settlements (see here, here, and here) with a global broker-dealer following investigations into the firm’s anti-money laundering (AML) programs. According to FINRA, the broker-dealer and its affiliated securities firm allegedly failed to establish and implement AML processes reasonably designed to detect and report potentially high-risk transactions, including foreign currency wire transfers to and from countries known to be at high risk for money laundering, as well as penny stock transactions processed through the use of an omnibus account on behalf of undisclosed customers. FINRA alleged that from January 2004 to April 2017, the broker-dealer “processed thousands of foreign currency wires for billions of dollars, without sufficient oversight.”
In a separate investigation conducted by FinCEN in conjunction with FINRA and the SEC, the broker-dealer reached a settlement over allegations that it failed to, among other things, (i) develop and implement a risk-based AML program that “adequately addressed the risks associated with accounts that included both traditional brokerage and banking-like services”; (ii) implement policies and procedures, which would ensure the detection and reporting of suspicious activity through all accounts, particularly for those accounts with little to no securities training; (iii) “implement an adequate due diligence program for foreign correspondent accounts”; and (iv) provide sufficient staffing, leading to a backlog of alerts and decreased ability to file suspicious activity reports (SARs).
According to the SEC's investigation, from at least 2011 to 2013, the broker-dealer allegedly failed to file SARs as required by the Bank Secrecy Act’s reporting requirements and Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Among other things, the SEC also claimed that the broker-dealer (i) provided customers with other services, such as cross-border wires, internal transfers between accounts and check writing, which increased its susceptibility to risks of money laundering and other types of associated illicit financial activity; and (ii) “did not properly review suspicious transactions flagged by its internal monitoring systems and failed to detect suspicious transactions involving the movement of funds between certain accounts in suspicious long-term patterns.”
After factoring in remedial actions, the broker-dealer has been assessed total civil money penalties of $14.5 million, including a $500,000 fine against the securities firm.
On December 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $2,774,972 settlement with a Chinese oilfield services company and its affiliated companies and subsidiaries (collectively, the “group”) for 11 alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, the settlement resolves potential civil liability for the group’s alleged involvement in exporting or re-exporting, or attempts to export or re-export, U.S.-based goods to end-users in Iran through China.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following as aggravating factors: (i) the group “willfully violated U.S. sanctions on Iran by engaging in and systematically obfuscating conduct it knew to be prohibited by company policy and economic sanctions, and continued to engage in such conduct even after the U.S. Government began to investigate the conduct”; (ii) employees, including management, were aware of the transactions and concealed the nature of the transactions from the U.S.; (iii) the group falsified information and provided false statements to the U.S. during the course of the investigation; (iv) the group’s conduct, which occurred over a period of years, provided economic benefits to Iran; and (v) the group is a commercially sophisticated international corporation.
OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) the group has no prior OFAC sanctions history and has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years before the transactions at issue; (ii) the group has cooperated with OFAC and disclosed possible violations involving other sanctions programs; (iii) the group agreed to toll the statute of limitations; and (iv) the group implemented remedial measures and corrective actions to minimize the risk of reoccurring conduct.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.
On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued Notice 2018-1 announcing a further extension of time for certain Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) filings in light of FinCEN’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) published March 10, 2016. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 NPR here.) Specifically, one of the proposed amendments seeks to “expand and clarify the exemptions for certain U.S. persons with signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts,” but with no financial interest, as outlined in FinCEN Notice 2017-1 issued December 22, 2017. FinCEN noted that because the proposal has not been finalized, it is extending the filing due date to April 15, 2020 for individuals who previously qualified for a filing due date extension under Notice 2017-1. All other individuals must submit FBAR filings by April 15, 2019.
On December 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13H, 14D, 15C, and 16D, which amend previous licenses related to permissible wind-down transactions that otherwise would be prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations with respect to the subject entities. OFAC extended the expiration dates of the licenses from January 7 to January 21.
GL 13H supersedes GL 13G and authorizes, among other things, activities “ordinarily incident and necessary” to (i) divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings in the specified blocked entities to a non-U.S. person; or (ii) facilitate the transfers of debt, equity, or other holdings in those entities by a non-U.S. person to another non-U.S. person. GL 14D, which supersedes GL 14C, relates to specific wind-down activities involving a Russian aluminum producer sanctioned last April as previously covered by InfoBytes here. GL 15C and GL 16D supersede GL 15B and GL 16C, respectively, and authorize permissible activities relating to the maintenance or wind-down of operations, contracts, and agreements with designated entities and subsidiaries that were effective prior to April 6.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine sanctions.
Agencies encourage financial institutions to explore innovative industry approaches to BSA/AML compliance
On December 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released a joint statement along with federal banking agencies—the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (together, the “agencies”)—to encourage banks and credit unions to explore innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence, digital identity technologies, and internal financial intelligence units to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial threats when safeguarding the financial system. According to the agencies, private sector innovation and the adoption of new technologies can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. Moreover, new innovations and technologies can also enhance transaction monitoring systems. Specifically, the agencies urged banks to test innovative programs to explore the use of artificial intelligence. However, the agencies emphasized that while feedback on innovative programs may be provided, the “pilot programs in and of themselves should not subject banks to supervisory criticism even if the pilot programs ultimately prove unsuccessful. Likewise, pilot programs that expose gaps in a BSA/AML compliance program will not necessarily result in supervisory action with respect to that program.” The joint statement further specifies that the agencies will be willing to grant exceptive relief from BSA regulatory requirements to facilitate pilot programs, “provided that banks maintain the overall effectiveness of their BSA/AML compliance programs.” However, banks that maintain effective compliance programs but choose not to innovate will not be penalized or criticized.
According to Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, “[a]s money launderers and other illicit actors constantly evolve their tactics, we want the compliance community to likewise adapt their efforts to counter these threats,” pointing to the recent use of innovative technologies to identify and report illicit financial activity related to both Iran and North Korea.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier in October the agencies provided guidance on resource sharing between banks and credit unions in order to more efficiently and effectively manage their BSA/AML obligations.
On November 30, the U.S. Treasury Department, the Canadian Department of Finance, and the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit of Mexico (collectively, the “authorities”) announced the creation of the Canada-Mexico-United States Financial Regulatory Forum (Forum) to share information on financial sector developments and financial regulatory practices and procedures. The authorities published a joint “understanding,” which outlines the Forum’s intentions, including: (i) sharing information to allow for timely identification of potential cross-border financial regulatory issues; (ii) exchanging views on emerging financial sector developments and financial stability risks; and (iii) discussing regulatory issues that arise in bilateral and multilateral contexts or which relate to international standards. The Forum intends to meet annually.
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