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On November 12, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)-identified jurisdictions with “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in October, FATF updated the list of jurisdictions to include the Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Iceland, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. At the time, FATF noted that several jurisdictions had not yet been reviewed, and that it “continues to identify additional jurisdictions, on an ongoing basis, that pose a risk to the international financial system.”
The FinCEN advisory reminds financial institutions of the FATF October updates and emphasizes that financial institutions should consider both the FATF Public Statement and the Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process documents when reviewing due diligence obligations and risk-based policies, procedures, and practices. Moreover, the advisory includes public statements on the status of, and obligations involving, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran, in particular. The advisory reminds jurisdictions of the actions the United Nations and the U.S. have taken with respect to sanctioning the DPRK and Iran and emphasizes that financial institutions must comply “with the extensive U.S. restrictions and prohibitions against opening or maintaining any correspondent accounts, directly or indirectly, with foreign banks licensed by the DPRK or Iran.”
On October 18, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) published its updated list of jurisdictions identified as having “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes that have also developed action plans with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The list of jurisdictions includes the Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ghana, Iceland, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Notably, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Tunisia have been removed from the list and are no longer subject to the FATF’s AML/CFT compliance process due to making “significant progress” in their regimes, while Iceland, Mongolia, and Zimbabwe have been added since the last update in June (covered by InfoBytes here). The FATF further notes that several jurisdictions have not yet been reviewed, and that it “continues to identify additional jurisdictions, on an ongoing basis, that pose a risk to the international financial system.” While the FATF does not instruct members to apply enhanced due diligence to these jurisdictions, it encourages members to take this information into account when conducting money laundering risk assessments and due diligence.
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 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 11, the SEC, Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a joint statement to remind persons who engage in digital asset activities or handle cryptocurrency transactions of their anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) obligations under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). According to the agencies, AML/CFT obligations apply to entities defined as “financial institutions” under the Bank Secrecy Act, which include “futures commission merchants and introducing brokers obligated to register with the CFTC, money services businesses (MSB) as defined by FinCEN, and broker-dealers and mutual funds obligated to register with the SEC.” The obligations include, among other things, (i) establishing and implementing an effective AML program; and (ii) complying with recordkeeping and reporting requirements such as suspicious activity reporting (SARs).
The agencies note that persons who engage in digital asset-related activities may have AML/CFT obligations regardless of the “label or terminology used to describe a digital asset or a person engaging in or providing financial activities or services involving a digital asset.” According to the agencies, the facts and circumstances underlying the asset or service, “including its economic reality and use,” is what determines how the asset is categorized, the applicable regulatory treatment, and whether the persons involved are financial institution under the BSA.
Additionally, FinCEN reminded financial institutions of its supervisory and enforcement authority to “ensure the effectiveness of the AML/CFT regime,” emphasizing that persons who provide money transmission services are MSBs subject to FinCEN regulation. FinCEN also referred to its May 2019 interpretive guidance, which consolidated and clarified current FinCEN regulations, guidance, and administrative rulings related to money transmissions involving virtual currency. (Previous InfoBytes coverage here.)
On September 11, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Deputy Director Jamal El-Hindi delivered remarks at the 2019 Money Transmitter Regulators Association’s annual conference. El Hindi’s remarks focused on innovation and reform pertaining to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), supervision in the non-bank financial institution sector and coordination with state supervisors, and “the importance of a strong culture of compliance and what it means in a national and global security context.” According to El-Hindi, the BSA/anti-money laundering system “is good; but it can always be improved,” including through innovations that can “help better detect and safeguard against illicit activity.” El-Hindi reiterated FinCEN’s policy statement from December 2018, which encouraged innovation in the banking sector. (Previously covered by InfoBytes here.)
El-Hindi also highlighted recent discussions related to the role artificial intelligence can play in reducing false positives to assist human analysis, and the potential for blockchain technology to enhance transparency through the understanding of customer identity or transaction profiles. He noted that these themes and others emerged from FinCEN’s recent “Innovation Hours Program,” which encourages fintech companies, regtech companies, and financial institutions to present to FinCEN new and innovative products and services for potential use in the financial sector. The program’s upcoming September meeting will focus on innovations in “know your customer” compliance, BSA reporting, and core inter-bank payment and messaging systems associated with industry anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism efforts. Additionally, El-Hindi noted that FinCEN’s enhanced supervision of nonbank financial institutions involves “actively prioritizing and engaging in,” among other activities, (i) conducting examinations of “specialized, rapidly evolving” financial services providers (e.g., virtual currency exchangers and administrators); (ii) identifying sector data to support FinCEN's analytic endeavors; and (iii) developing a stronger framework for risk assessments of the nonbank financial sector “from both the compliance and illicit activity standpoints.” El-Hindi closed his remarks by encouraging FinCEN and other regulators to discuss with foreign counterparts “the concept of a culture of compliance in the United States and what underpins it, and explore with our counterparts concepts that could underpin a culture of compliance in their own jurisdictions.”
On July 12, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory reminding financial institutions that on June 21, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) updated two documents that list jurisdictions identified as having “strategic deficiencies” in their anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regimes. The first document, the FATF Public Statement, identifies two jurisdictions, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran, that are subject to countermeasures and/or enhanced due diligence due to their strategic AML/CFT deficiencies. The second document, Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process, identifies the following jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have developed an action plan with the FATF to address those deficiencies: the Bahamas, Botswana, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Pakistan, Panama, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, and Yemen. Notably, Serbia has been removed from the list and Panama has been added since the last update in March (covered by InfoBytes here). FATF further notes that several jurisdictions have not yet been reviewed, and that it “continues to identify additional jurisdictions, on an ongoing basis, that pose a risk to the international financial system.” Generally, financial institutions should consider both the FATF Public Statement and the Improving Global AML/CFT Compliance: On-going Process documents when reviewing due diligence obligations and risk-based policies, procedures, and practices.
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.
On May 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an updated advisory to warn financial institutions of continued public corruption and attempted money laundering related to Venezuelan government agencies and political figures. The advisory updates a September 2017 advisory (previously covered by InfoBytes here) and renews the description of public corruption in Venezuela. The advisory also describes how “corrupt Venezuelan senior political figures exploit a Venezuelan government-administered food program by directing overvalued, no-bid contracts to co-conspirators that use ‘an over-invoicing trade-based money laundering’” scheme, which involves, among other things, front or shell companies, non-dollar denominated accounts, and nested accounts designed to evade sanctions and anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) controls. The advisory also notes attempts by former President Maduro’s regime to evade sanctions and AML/CFT controls through the use of digital currency. The update provides revised financial red flags to assist with the identification and reporting of suspicious activity to FinCEN in connection with senior Venezuelan political figures.
FinCEN further emphasizes that financial institutions should continue to follow a risk-based approach and that normal transactions involving Venezuelan business and nationals are not necessarily reflective of the aforementioned risks.
See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On April 12, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international standard setting body, agreed to a permanent mandate for the FATF to continue its work against combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and the financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. FATF ministers agreed to meet every two years, starting in 2022, to support the commitment to implementing the mandate. Among other things, the mandate states the FATF will (i) develop and refine international standards for combating money laundering; (ii) respond to significant new and emerging threats to the global financial system; (iii) maintain engagement with other international organizations and bodies; and (iv) consult the private sector on matters relating to FATF’s work. The mandate also provides a detailed layout of the organization’s membership composition and internal organization.
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