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On January 12, NYDFS announced that it had entered into a consent order with a digital currency trading company after an investigation that found the company responsible for compliance failures that violated NYDFS’s virtual currency and cybersecurity regulations, leaving the company vulnerable to illicit activity and cybersecurity threats.
NYDFS found that the company failed to meet its compliance obligations due to (i) deficiencies in the company’s AML program; (ii) failure to file compliant suspicious activity reports; (iii) failure to conduct required OFAC screening; and (iv) failure to maintain an adequate cybersecurity program. In connection with the settlement, the company will surrender its BitLicense, the license required to be held by any company conducting virtual currency business in New York state and pay an $8 million penalty.
On June 29, FinCEN announced that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a public statement updating its lists of jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in anti-money laundering (AML), countering the financing of terrorism (CFT), and countering the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destructions (CPF). FATF’s statements include (i) Jurisdictions under Increased Monitoring, “which publicly identifies jurisdictions with strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT/CPF regimes that have committed to, or are actively working with, the FATF to address those deficiencies in accordance with an agreed upon timeline,” and (ii) High-Risk Jurisdictions Subject to a Call for Action, “which publicly identifies jurisdictions with significant strategic deficiencies in their AML/CFT/CPF regimes and calls on all FATF members to apply enhanced due diligence, and, in the most serious cases, apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing risks emanating from the identified countries.”
FinCEN’s announcement also informed members that FATF added Cameroon, Croatia, and Vietnam it its list to the list of Jurisdictions Under Increased Monitoring and advised jurisdictions to apply enhanced due diligence proportionate to the risks. FATF did not remove any jurisdictions from the list. Additionally, the announcement suggests that money service businesses refer to FinCEN’s Guidance on compliance obligations to employ adequate measures against money laundering and the financing of terrorism posed by their foreign relationships. Also noted in the announcement is that the list of high-risk jurisdictions subject to a call for action, remains the same. FinCEN reminded in the announcement that U.S. financial institutions are still broadly prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings with Iran, and they should continue to refer to existing FinCEN and Office of Foreign Assets Control guidance on engaging in financial transactions with Burma. With respect to high-risk jurisdictions subject to a call for action — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Iran — “financial institutions must comply with the extensive U.S. restrictions and prohibitions against opening or maintaining any correspondent accounts, directly or indirectly, for North Korean or Iranian financial institutions,” FinCEN said, adding that “[e]xisting U.S. sanctions and FinCEN regulations already prohibit any such correspondent account relationships.”
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) recently announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13581 against a human smuggling organization, and several individuals and entities in its support network. OFAC claimed the Mexico-based organization, Hernandez Salas transnational criminal organization (TCO), earns billions of dollars per year smuggling and creating false documentation for migrants. The leader of the TCO has been sanctioned, among four other supporters. OFAC reported that the individuals are currently incarcerated in Mexico and awaiting extradition to the U.S. for trial before a federal grand jury. Also sanctioned are two Mexican hotels that have taken part in the TCO’s smuggling operations. OFAC noted that the sanctions were pursued in close collaboration with Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
On June 21, pursuant to Executive Order 14014, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Burma’s Ministry of Defense and two regime-controlled financial institutions. In announcing the sanctions, OFAC explained that the Burmese military, which overthrew the country’s democratic government in February 2021, has increased its reliance on air strikes in civilian populated areas, resulting in the death of more than 3,600 civilians and displacing nearly than 1.5 million people, and that Burma’s Ministry of Defense has imported goods from sanctioned entities in Russia to support the Burmese military. OFAC detailed that the two sanctioned financial institutions, which primarily function as foreign currency exchanges, “enable Burma’s Ministry of Defense and other sanctioned military entities to purchase arms and other materials from foreign sources.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless authorized by a general or specific OFAC license, or if otherwise exempt.
In conjunction with the sanctions, OFAC issued a Burma-related special license (See General License 5).
On June 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13382 and 13810, against two individuals involved in the procurement of equipment and materials that support the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) ballistic missile program. According to OFAC, the missile program relies on foreign-sourced ballistic missile-related components that it cannot produce domestically. One of the sanctioned persons has collaborated with a number of individuals to purchase and procure items including those known to be used in the production of DPRK ballistic missiles. The individual’s wife is the second sanctioned individual listed as “being a North Korean person, including a North Korean person that has engaged in commercial activity that generates revenue for the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea.”
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons that are in the U.S., or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. OFAC further mentioned, “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals or entities designated today could be subject to U.S. correspondent or payable-through account sanctions.”
On June 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 14024, against two individuals for attempting to conduct “global malign influence operations,” including efforts to influence a U.S. local election. According to OFAC, the designated individuals are Russian Federal Security Service officers who operate as part of a mission that provokes anti-government and anti-democratic positions designed to undermine faith in democratic principles, weaken U.S. diplomatic connections, and exploits societal divisions in an effort to expand Russia’s influence. OFAC said one of the individuals directed more than six U.S. co-conspirators, including two who ran in local U.S. elections, to report on the activities of political groups. OFAC designated the two individuals “for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, the Government of the Russian Federation.” The designated individuals were also recently indicted by the DOJ as well as by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida. In a parallel action announced the same day, the EU released its Eleventh Package of sanctions against Russia. The Eleventh Package added, among other things, over 100 individuals and entities subject to asset freezes, a new anti-circumvention tool to restrict the trade of sanctioned goods, and 87 new entities to the list of those directly supporting Russia’s military and industrial complex in the war against Ukraine.
As a result of these sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Further, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, individually or in the aggregate, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons, unless exempt or authorized by a general or specific OFAC license. Additionally, OFAC warned that financial institutions and other persons that engage in certain transactions or activities with the sanctioned persons may themselves be exposed to sanctions or be subject to an enforcement action.
On June 16, the Counter ISIS Finance Group (CIFG) of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS released a joint statement by the CIFG co-leads (the US, Italy, and Saudi Arabia), which coordinates efforts to isolate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from the international financial system and eliminate its revenue sources. CIFG held its eighteenth meeting on June 7, and during the meeting attendees discussed ISIS’s presence in Africa and partner countries presented on actions taken to disrupt ISIS financing. The presentations also “demonstrated how coordinated action and information-sharing among states, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector amplify the impact of law enforcement investigations, targeted sanctions, prosecutions, and other measures against ISIS financing networks.” The CIFG co-leads also mentioned that international cooperation has been vital in disrupting ISIS transactions outside of the formal financial system especially, amongst other things, amid the increasing use of virtual assets and mobile payment systems. CIFG members and observers are seeking, among other things: (i) support from counterterrorism partners, NGOs, and the private sector to increase information sharing; (ii) cooperation from countries prone to exploitation by ISIS financers; (iii) to assist vulnerable jurisdictions in their efforts against money laundering and terrorism financing; (iv) to urge Global Coalition members, particularly in Africa, to support their military to combat ISIS insurgency; and (v) to assist in a risk-based approach to implementing effective regulations, especially in the case of mobile payment platforms and virtual asset service providers. With a focus on international cooperation, CIFG members said they will continue to closely work with counterterrorism partners to disrupt ISIS funding sources and methods.
On June 20, the U.S Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement with a Latvia-based bank—a subsidiary of an international financial institution headquartered in Sweden—to resolve potential civil liability stemming from OFAC’s Crimea sanctions. According to OFAC’s web notice, in 2015 and 2016, a shipping industry client of the Latvia-based subsidiary bank made 386 transactions totaling over $3 million through its e-banking platform from a Crimea-based IP address to persons in Crimea, which were processed through U.S. correspondent banks. OFAC alleges that in 2016, the client attempted to make a payment to a U.S. correspondent bank from a Crimea-based IP address, but after the payments were rejected and the bank was reassured by the client that the transactions did not involve Crimea, the bank rerouted the payment through a different U.S. correspondent bank. OFAC alleges that the bank had client onboarding information that the client had a physical presence in Crimea, so the bank had reason to know that the transactions in fact involved Crimea. OFAC also accused the bank of not integrating the client’s IP data into its sanctions screening processes.
In arriving at the $3.4 million settlement amount, OFAC considered, among other things, that the bank willfully violated U.S. sanctions by not self-disclosing the violations, which is required as a third party. According to the OCC, the bank failed to exercise due caution or care in neglecting to account for the client’s presence in Crimea, and instead solely relied on the client’s reassurances when it possessed contradictory information. OFAC also claimed that the bank had many customers in Crimea, and therefore had reason to know the origin of the payments it was processing. OFAC also considered several mitigating factors, including that: (i) the bank has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (ii) the bank and the financial institution took remedial action; and (iii) the bank and the financial institution cooperated with OFAC’s requests for information.
OFAC said that this action “demonstrates the importance of implementing and maintaining effective, risk-based sanctions compliance controls, especially for sophisticated financial institutions operating in proximity to high-risk regions.” OFAC added that this case also demonstrates the importance of undertaking reasonable efforts to investigate red flags. Finally, OFAC noted that this matter underscores the importance of remaining vigilant against efforts by entities based in Crimea, Russia, and other high-risk countries seeking to evade sanctions and elude compliance controls.
On June 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a Fact Sheet for “Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID-19.” The Fact Sheet, among other things, highlights Treasury’s humanitarian-related or other general licenses (GL) issued to support people impacted by Covid-19 across Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Cuba, and Russia. Relatedly, OFAC issued Iran-related GL N-2, Venezuela-related GL 39B, and Syria-related GL 21B to authorize transactions and activities related to the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of Covid-19, as well as several amended FAQs.
On June 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions, pursuant to Executive Order 13382, against seven individuals and six entities in Iran, China, and Hong Kong for supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program. These sanctions build on OFAC’s March 30, 2022, designations against other supporters of the Iran-based missile program (covered by InfoBytes here) in an effort to target weapons of mass destruction proliferators and their supporters. OFAC explained that the designated individuals and entities have done business with and supported the procurement of critical parts and technology for Iran’s ballistic missile development.
As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individuals and entities that are in the U.S. or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Further, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons. Persons that engage in certain transactions with the designated individuals or entities may themselves be exposed to sanctions, and “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the individuals or entities designated today pursuant to E.O. 13382 could be subject to U.S. sanctions.”