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On April 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $141,442 settlement with a Colorado-based multinational mining firm for allegedly violating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, between June 2016 to November 2017, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the firm purchased Cuban-origin explosives and explosive accessories from a third-party vendor to be used in a mine construction. The distributor, on the subsidiary’s behalf, imported Cuban-origin explosives and explosive accessories for the mine on at least four separate occasions, despite the subsidiary being “generally prohibited from dealing in Cuban-origin goods.” According to OFAC, shipping documents clearly identified that the goods were sourced from Cuba. In addition, purchase orders failed to contain express statements that items provided to the subsidiary may not originate from embargoed jurisdictions, nor did the subsidiary ask for country-of-origin information for the goods acquired from its suppliers. Additionally, OFAC contended that the subsidiary’s failure to provide appropriate export and trade sanctions training led to the apparent violations.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the parent firm and subsidiary failed to exercise reasonable due diligence to ensure it complied with U.S. Cuba sanctions requirements; and (ii) the firm and its subsidiaries and affiliates are “a large and sophisticated organization operating globally as a leading gold producer with experience and expertise in international transactions.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the apparent violations were self-disclosed and constituted a non-egregious case; (ii) the firm and subsidiary have not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (iii) the amount of payments were not significant compared to the total volume of transactions undertaken on an annual basis; and (iv) the firm and its subsidiary cooperated with the investigation, signed a tolling agreement, and are currently implementing remedial measures to prevent future violations.
Separately, OFAC also announced a $45,908 settlement with a Florida-based company affiliated with a distributor of explosives and accessories for mining operations. According to the web notice issued in this action, on four occasions in 2016 and 2017, the company and certain affiliates procured Cuban-origin explosives and related accessories from a third-party vendor originating from Cuba on behalf of a U.S. company for the U.S. company’s mining project in Suriname in violation of the CACR. OFAC contended that the company was responsible for overseeing the processing of purchase orders and invoices for these transactions, and that in 2018, after the U.S. company customer learned of the goods’ Cuban origins, it was asked to no longer procure goods from Cuba. According to OFAC, the apparent violations occurred primarily because of the company’s failure “to understand U.S. prohibitions on dealings in Cuban property or engaging in transactions related to merchandise of Cuban origin outside the United States,” adding that the company did not have a compliance program in place when the four transactions occurred, nor did it realize the transactions were prohibited until they were flagged by the customer. The company immediately ceased all activities involving Cuba after learning of the sanctions implications but did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations, which OFAC deemed non-egregious.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the company failed to “exercise a minimal degree of caution or care” when procuring Cuban-origin goods from its supplier; (ii) the company “had actual knowledge that it was financing the provision of Cuban-origin goods for export to Suriname”; and (iii) the company’s actions harmed the U.S. sanctions program. Mitigating factors included that the company is (i) small and largely overseen by one individual; (ii) the company has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; and (iii) the company provided timely information and entered into a tolling agreement. Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that “[t]his case illustrates the risks facing companies of any size operating internationally that do not develop or maintain basic awareness of sanctions risks and do not institute appropriate measures to identify and prevent potential violations.”
On January 3, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $91,172 settlement against a registered money services business for allegedly processing payment transactions for guests traveling to Cuba "for reasons outside of OFAC’s authorized categories” and failing to maintain certain required records associated with Cuba-related transactions. These actions, OFAC, stated, allegedly violated the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, as the company scaled up its traveler services in Cuba, its technology platforms were allegedly unable to manage the associated sanctions risks, which led to the alleged violations. Among other things, OFAC maintained that the company used a manual process to screen hosts and guests for potential sanctions issues until it began using a customized IP blocking system. Additionally, the company’s alleged recordkeeping violations were primarily attributed to technical defects involving an older version of the company’s mobile application that could be used for Cuba-related travel without “maintain[ing] complete functionality for [g]uests to make an attestation regarding their reason for travel to Cuba.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the company is a large, sophisticated U.S.-based technology company, and that its alleged violations followed a 2015 foreign policy change with respect to Cuba, as well as associated changes to the CACR, which maintained certain specified restrictions. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) did not receive a penalty notice or finding of violation in the past five years preceding the earliest transaction giving rise to this settlement; (ii) conducted a comprehensive review of its sanctions compliance program, voluntarily reported its findings to OFAC, and substantially cooperated with the investigation; and (iii) undertook significant remedial measures to ensure sanctions compliance.
On August 11, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) released a fact sheet to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting the ability of the Cuban people “to seek, receive, and impart information” through access to the internet. According to OFAC, “[t]he fact sheet highlights the most relevant exemptions and authorizations pertinent to supporting the Cuban people through the provision of certain internet and related telecommunications services.” The fact sheet also notes that though most transactions between persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and Cuba are prohibited under the current embargo, the U.S. government permits certain activities to support the Cuban people’s access to information on the internet. The relevant OFAC regulations can be found in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 and the relevant BIS regulations can be found in the Export Administration Regulations, 15 C.F.R. parts 730-774.
On January 15, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against the Cuban Ministry of Interior and the Minister of Interior for his alleged connection to serious human rights abuses. According to OFAC, the sanctions are taken pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and “targets perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.” As a result of the sanctions, all of the individual’s property and interests in property that are blocked pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations continue to be blocked, as well as any of the individual’s property and interests in property in the United States or possessed or controlled by U.S. persons. Additionally, OFAC regulations prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the individual unless exempt or otherwise authorized by an OFAC general or specific license.
On December 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations against three state-owned entities “controlled by the Cuban military with strategic roles in the Cuban economy.” According to OFAC, the entities are identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, with two of the entities being designated for, among other things, using “their Panamanian incorporation to subvert international trade restrictions.” One of the sanctioned entities, OFAC notes, is a financial investment and remittance company “authorized by the Central Bank of Cuba to finance export operations, conduct financial leasing operations, and handle commercial distribution of remittance cards.” Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on the Cuban Assets Control Regulations here.
On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) “to further implement portions of the President’s foreign policy toward Cuba to deny the Cuban government access to funds in connection with remittances to Cuba.” Among other things, the final rule amends several general licenses to remove any transactions that involve entities or subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List (CRL) from the scope of certain remittance-related general authorizations. According to OFAC, the CRL is a list of “entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” Additionally, the final rule also clarifies that transactions that relate to the collection, receipt or forwarding of remittances involving an identified entity or subentity are “not authorized as an ordinarily incident transaction where the terms of the general or specific license expressly exclude any such transactions.” In conjunction with the announcement of the final rule, OFAC also updated and issued several new Frequently Asked Questions. The final rule takes effect November 26, allowing for a 30-day implementation period in order to allow for technical implementation of the additional restrictions.
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 September 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to further implement portions of the President’s foreign policy to deny the Cuban regime sources of revenue. Among other things, the final rule (i) amends an interpretive provision and several general licenses regarding lodging and related transactions at certain properties in Cuba identified on the State Department’s “Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List,” including those owned or controlled by the Cuban government; (ii) amends four general licenses to restrict the importation of Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the U.S.; (iii) amends a general license to eliminate the authorization for U.S. persons to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba (specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for certain transactions); and (iv) eliminates a general license that authorizes U.S. persons “to participate in or organize certain public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions, and replaces it with a specific licensing policy” (again permitting the authorization of specific activities via specific license on a case-by-case basis). The final rule also makes several technical and conforming changes, and is effective September 24.
On May 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $257,862 settlement with an animal nutrition company for 44 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, between July 2012 and September 2017, the company and its owned or controlled foreign entities allegedly coordinated agricultural commodity sales to a Cuban company without OFAC authorization by processing Cuba-related business through its foreign affiliates and developing “a transaction structure that it incorrectly determined would be consistent with U.S. sanctions requirements.” OFAC noted that the company “could potentially have availed itself of such authorization” or applied for a specific licenses from OFAC, but “failed to seek appropriate advice or otherwise take the steps necessary to authorize these transactions.” OFAC determined that in light of the fact that the transactions may have been eligible for authorization, as well as the company’s voluntary self-disclosure, compliance enhancements, and other factors, the apparent violations constituted a non-egregious case.
OFAC advised U.S. companies with a global presence to maintain an appropriate sanctions compliance program and to seek “appropriate advice and guidance” when contemplating business that may be impacted by U.S. sanctions programs. In addition, OFAC referenced enforcement and compliance resources and cautioned that sanctions violations can arise from a misinterpretation or lack of understanding of OFAC’s regulations, including general licenses and authorizations. OFAC advised U.S. persons to “exercise[e] caution when dealing with foreign subsidiaries or affiliates located in regions subject to U.S. sanctions programs” and to understand the full scope and applicability of authorizations related to certain sanctions prohibitions.
On December 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement with a U.S.-based property and casualty company for 6,474 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, between August 2010 and January 2015, the company’s Canadian branch provided travel insurance policies to Canadian citizens traveling to Cuba, and continued to do so even though the company knew early on that that policies were being issued related to travel to Cuba but did not investigate it until 2014. In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including the fact that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC, and that the company enhanced its OFAC compliance. OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the company had knowledge of the violations as early as 2010, and that the travel policies “provided economic benefit to Cuba.”
Also on December 9, OFAC announced another settlement, this time with a Swiss worldwide insurance and reinsurance company, which formerly was a subsidiary of a U.S. company. The settlement resolves potential civil liability for 20,291 alleged violations of the CACR between January 2010 and December 2014 for issuing insurance policies for Cuba-related travel, because the policies, though global in scope, did not include an exclusionary clause “for risks that would violate U.S. sanctions law.” OFAC considered a number of mitigating factors in determining the settlement amount, including the fact that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations and represented that it conducted a risk assessment of its offices and developed compliance policies and procedures. Additionally, OFAC considered several aggravating factors, including that the company issued global policies that did not contain exclusionary clauses, the activity resulted from a pattern or practice spanning several years, and the company is a large and commercially sophisticated financial institution.
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- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “Understanding the ESG impact on compliance” at the ABA’s Regulatory Compliance Conference