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OFAC Settles with Canadian Bank for Apparent Violations of Cuban Assets Control Regulations and Iran Sanctions
On January 13, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced a $516,105 settlement agreement with a Canadian-based bank and its online-brokerage subsidiaries in connection with accounts held and transactions processed on behalf of certain Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons located in Cuba, Iran and other locations in the Middle East. OFAC also identified general “shortcomings in the bank’s OFAC compliance policies, procedures, and programs” including the bank’s failure to screen for any potential nexus to an OFAC-sanctioned country or entity prior to processing related transactions through the U.S. financial system and occurring due to shortcomings in the banks policies and procedures. The settlement agreement does, however, note that the Apparent Violations constituted a non-egregious case, that the Bank voluntarily self-disclosed the Apparent Violations, and that the applicable total base penalty amount for the apparent violations was $955,750—well above the $516,105 amount OFAC assessed.
Notably, in the agreement’s concluding paragraph, OFAC highlights, as a general matter, the risks associated with both “subsidiaries in high-risk industries–such as securities firms” and, in particular “online payment platforms when the financial institution is unable to restrict access for individuals and entities located in comprehensively sanctioned countries.”
OFAC took an additional step toward further implementation of President Obama’s new policy direction toward Cuba on October 17, with the publication of a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 CFR Part 515 (CACR). Of those most relevant to financial institutions, OFAC updated the CACR by, among other things, amending paragraphs (c) and (f) of section 515.584, which relates to certain financial transactions involving Cuba. Section 515.584(c), as outlined in OFAC’s set of updated FAQs, “authorizes all transactions incident to the processing and payment of credit and debit card transactions for third-country nationals traveling to, from, or within Cuba.” FAQ number 49 further explains that “[a]ny person subject to U.S. jurisdiction, including U.S. financial institutions and their foreign branches, may conduct transactions authorized by [section 515.584(c)].” Section 515.584(f), as explained by FAQ 73, permits: Any banking institution …that is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction is authorized to provide financing for exports or reexports of items, other than agricultural commodities, authorized pursuant to § 515.533, including issuing, advising, negotiating, paying, or confirming letters of credit (including letters of credit issued by a financial institution that is a national of Cuba), accepting collateral for issuing or confirming letters of credit, and processing documentary collections. OFAC’s amendments to the CACR are effective immediately.
On July 25, OFAC updated its list of frequently asked questions related to Cuba to clarify requirements applicable to persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction that are providing carrier or travel services to Cuba pursuant to 31 C.F.R. § 515.572. According to new FAQ 38, where such a person is providing travel or carrier services to a customer traveling to or from Cuba under a specific license, OFAC will consider the collection and retention of the traveler’s specific license number to be equivalent to collecting and retaining a physical or electronic copy of the specific license, as required by § 515.572(b)(1). The carrier or travel services provider must maintain a record of the specific license number or a copy of the license for at least five years. Revised FAQ 39 reiterates that authorized carrier or travel service providers must also retain a certification from each customer traveling to or from Cuba indicating the provision of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations that authorizes travel and the names and addresses of the individual travelers for at least five years from the date of the transaction.
On July 8, OFAC updated its list of frequently asked questions related to Cuba to add two new FAQs regarding the use of U.S. dollars in certain transactions. New FAQ number 43 clarifies that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may use the U.S. dollar to conduct transactions in Cuba or with Cuban nationals if the activity is authorized by or exempt from the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). FAQ 43 further clarifies that under 31 CFR § 515.584(d), commonly known as the “U-turn” general license, U.S. banking institutions are authorized to process transactions originating and terminating outside the United States provided that neither the originator nor the beneficiary is a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction. This means that transactions related to third-country commerce involving Cuba or Cuban nationals may be processed in U.S. dollars through the U.S. financial system via financial institutions located in the United States that serve as intermediary banks. New FAQ 50 relates to correspondent accounts. Pursuant to a general license in the CACR, U.S. depository institutions are permitted to maintain correspondent accounts at financial institutions that are nationals of Cuba, provided such accounts are used only for transactions that are authorized or exempt under the CACR. FAQ 50 explains that such accounts may be maintained in U.S. dollars, and that transactions necessary to establish and maintain such accounts – including processing funds transfers in U.S. dollars - are authorized. Finally, FAQ 50 notes that financial institutions that are nationals of Cuba remain prohibited from opening correspondent accounts at a U.S. financial institution.
On April 21, OFAC updated its list of frequently asked questions related to Cuba. The updated document includes eight new FAQs clarifying (i) that Section 515.584(d) of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) permits authorized U-turn transactions to originate or terminate at foreign branches and subsidiaries of U.S. banking institutions; (ii) due diligence expectations for banks processing an authorized U-turn transaction from a sanctions compliance perspective; (iii) that the importation into the United States of goods previously exported to Cuba for servicing requires a specific license; (iv) requirements regarding the export and reexportation of mixed-origin goods to Cuba; (v) that persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction may provide insurance-related services to persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and engaging in authorized activity in Cuba; (vi) OFAC license requirements for insurance-related services; (vii) that educational grants, scholarships, or awards may be given to a Cuban state-owned entity; and (viii) the circumstances under which a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction is authorized to purchase or lease real property in Cuba.
On March 15, OFAC issued a final rule updating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), 31 C.F.R. Part 515. The amendments advance policy changes announced by the Obama administration in 2014 by further facilitating travel to Cuba for authorized purposes, expanding the range of authorized financial transactions, and authorizing business and physical presence in Cuba. Regarding financial transactions, the final rule (i) amends section 515.584(d) to authorize certain U-turn payments through the U.S. financial system; (ii) adds new section 515.584(g) to allow U.S. banking institutions to process U.S. dollar monetary instruments presented indirectly by Cuban financial institutions; and (iii) adds new section 515.584(h) to “authorize banking institutions to open and maintain accounts solely in the name of a Cuban national located in Cuba for the purposes only of receiving payments in the United States in connection with transactions authorized pursuant to or exempt from the prohibitions of this part and remitting such payments to Cuba.”
OFAC’s amendments to the CACR were published in the Federal Register on March 16, 2016 and are effective immediately. OFAC simultaneously released a revised set of FAQs and a fact sheet regarding the changes set forth in the CACR.
On January 26, OFAC announced amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to further implement policy changes announced by the Obama Administration on December 17, 2014. The regulatory changes will, among other things, “remove existing restrictions on payment and financing terms for authorized exports and reexports to Cuba of items other than agricultural items and commodities, and establish a case-by-case licensing policy for exports and reexports of items to meet the needs of the Cuban people, including those made to Cuban state-owned enterprises.” Significantly, under the amendments, U.S. depository institutions will be authorized to provide financing for authorized exports and reexports, including issuing a letter of credit. Prior to the amendments, cash-in-advance or third-country financing were the only financing options available for authorized exports.
On September 18, OFAC issued a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to reflect policy changes previously announced by the Obama administration. With respect to financial transactions, the amendments, among other things, (i) permit certain additional persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction to open and maintain bank accounts in Cuba to use for authorized purposes; (ii) removes limitations on donative remittances to Cuban nationals, on certain authorized remittances that authorized travelers may carry to Cuba, and on the amount of remittances that a Cuban national permanently resident in Cuba who is departing from the U.S. may carry to Cuba; (iii) adds a new general license authorizing remittances from Cuba and Cuban nationals to the United States; (iv) adds a new general license authorizing the unblocking and return of certain previously blocked remittances and funds transfers in certain circumstances; and (v) authorizes U.S. depository institutions to maintain accounts for Cuban nationals while the Cuban-national account holder is located outside the United States, provided that the account holder may only access the account while lawfully present in the United States, and removes a cap on payments from blocked accounts held by Cuban nationals in the United States in a nonimmigrant status to use for living expenses. The amendments also relax restrictions previously set forth in the telecommunications and internet sector, on travel between the U.S. and Cuba, and other various activities. Revisions to the CACR take effect on September 21, 2015.
At the same time, OFAC published a set of new and revised FAQs addressing the changes set forth in the updated CACR.
OFAC Publishes Guidance Regarding Travel Between U.S. and Cuba, Releases Updated FAQs Regarding Cuba-Related Sanctions
On May 5, OFAC issued new Guidance Regarding Travel Between the U.S. and Cuba, which provides information on the types of individuals and cargo that can be transported between the U.S. and Cuba by a licensed air carrier or commercial passenger vessel. With respect to individuals, the guidance addressed persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, Cuban nationals, and other individuals, including foreign nationals, travelling on official government business. The guidance regarding cargo addressed, among other things, alcohol and tobacco products. In a separate announcement released on April 16 (and later updated on May 5), OFAC issued new and updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The updated FAQs follow a January 15 announcement in which OFAC issued a final rule amending the CACR to reflect policy changes previously announced by President Obama in 2014.
On January 15, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending its Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to reflect policy changes previously announced by President Obama on December 17. The amendments (i) allow U.S. financial institutions to maintain correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions; (ii) allow U.S. financial institutions to enroll merchants and process credit and debit card transactions for travel-related and other transactions consistent with the CACR; (iii) increase the limit of remittances to $2,000 from $500 per quarter; and (iv) under an expanded license, allow U.S. registered brokers or dealers in securities and registered money transmitters to process authorized remittances without having to apply for a specific license. In addition, OFAC released a FAQ sheet to help explain the new amendments, which are effective January 16.
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