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On February 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $506,250 settlement with a Connecticut-based company for five alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s alleged transactions valued at over $14 million involving the purchase of Iranian-origin cement clinker from a supplier in the United Arab Emirates who misrepresented to the company that the material was not subject to U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.
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OFAC sanctions Iranian entities and individuals supporting intelligence gathering and cyber targeting of U.S. persons
On February 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against an Iran-based entity and four affiliated Iranian individuals for their alleged roles in providing support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force’s (IRGC-QF) efforts to recruit and collect intelligence from foreign attendees of international conferences, including facilitating contact between the IRGC-QF and U.S. persons. According to OFAC, the sanctions were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which authorizes “the U.S. government to designate and block the assets of foreign individuals and entities that commit, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism.” The same day, OFAC also sanctioned a separate Iran-based entity and six associated individuals, pursuant to Executive Order 13606, for their alleged involvement in the cyber targeting of current and former U.S. government and military personnel, in an effort to gain access to their computer systems and implant malware.
As a result of the OFAC sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with the individuals and entities. Additionally, OFAC notes that “any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction or provides significant financial services for any of the persons designated today pursuant to E.O. 13224 or that are Iranian persons on OFAC’s list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons . . . could be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.”
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OFAC designates Turkish individual as “Foreign Sanctions Evader” in relation to settlement resolving alleged Iranian sanctions violations
On February 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $13,381 settlement with a Virginia-based corporation on behalf of its Turkish affiliate for six alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the Turkish affiliate’s alleged practice of dispatching employees to Iran to fulfill service agreements and providing products, parts, and services while knowing that they were going to Iranian end-users. OFAC’s findings included that the Turkish affiliate willfully took steps to continue its Iranian business despite the Virginia corporation’s “extensive efforts to ensure [the affiliate] complied with the ITSR,” and “fraudulently certified” that no Iranian business was continuing. This settlement demonstrates the risks posed to U.S. companies by the Iran-related dealings of their foreign subsidiaries.
In a concurrent action the same day, OFAC sanctioned a Turkish individual as a “Foreign Sanctions Evader,” pursuant to Executive Order 13608, for allegedly instructing the Turkish affiliate to violate the Iranian sanctions. According to OFAC, the sanctioned individual “regularly and fraudulently” certified to the Virginia corporation that no products were being sent to Iran. Additionally, OFAC claims that upon learning of the corporation’s internal investigation, the individual and other members of the Turkish affiliate’s management team attempted to conceal the apparent violations. As a result, all direct and indirect transactions involving the individual intended for the U.S., or provided by or to U.S. persons, are prohibited. Moreover, U.S. financial institutions are instructed to reject payments involving the identified individual.
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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.
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OFAC announces cyber-related designations, releases digital-currency addresses to identify illicit actors
On November 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13694 against two Iran-based individuals for allegedly helping to facilitate the exchange of ransom payments made in Bitcoin into local currency. For the first time, OFAC also identified two digital currency addresses associated with the identified financial facilitators who are designated “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” ransomware attacks that threaten the “national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the [U.S.]” According to OFAC, the provided digital currency addresses should be used to assist in identifying transactions and funds to be blocked as well as investigating potential connections.
Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker stated, “We are publishing digital-currency addresses to identify illicit actors operating in the digital-currency space. Treasury will aggressively pursue Iran and other rogue regimes attempting to exploit digital currencies and weaknesses in cyber and [anti-money laundering/countering financing of terrorism] safeguards to further their nefarious objectives.” OFAC issued a warning that persons who engage in transactions with the identified individuals “could be subject to secondary sanctions” and that “[r]egardless of whether a transaction is denominated in a digital currency or traditional fiat currency, OFAC compliance obligations are the same.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction “or within or transiting” the U.S. are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them. OFAC also released new FAQs to provide guidance for financial institutions on digital currency.
View here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.
On November 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $87,507 settlement with an aerospace and defense technology company for three alleged violations by a former subsidiary of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations (URSR). According to OFAC, the settlement resolves potential civil liability for the former subsidiary’s alleged involvement in the “indirect export of components to be incorporated into commercial air traffic control radar” through Canadian and Russian distributors “to a person owned 50 percent or more, directly or indirectly, by a person identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following as aggravating factors: (i) the former subsidiary’s failure to recognize warning signs; (ii) the transactions, which constituted the apparent violations, were reviewed and approved by the Director of Global Trade Compliance, and “resulted in harm to the sanctions program objectives of the URSR”; (iii) the company and former subsidiary are large, sophisticated entities; and (iv) the company and its compliance personnel previously violated Iranian Transaction and Sanctions Regulations, while the former subsidiary was subject to a consent agreement as a result of recurring compliance failures.
However OFAC also considered mitigating factors, including (i) the former subsidiary has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the company has cooperated with OFAC and implemented remedial measures, including terminating the violative conduct and implementing steps to minimize the risk of reoccurring conduct; and (iii) the company voluntarily disclosed the alleged violations on behalf of the former subsidiary.
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On November 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against four Hizballah-affiliated individuals for their alleged leadership roles in the group’s terrorist financial activities in Iraq, including providing support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). According to OFAC, the sanctions were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which “targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.” OFAC’s designations follow the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018—signed into law October 25—along with the reimposition of Iran-related sanctions on November 5 (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and reinforces U.S. efforts to “protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.” Furthermore, OFAC states that the four Specially Designated Global Terrorists are also subject to secondary sanctions under the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, and allows OFAC to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the [U.S.] of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
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OFAC announces several actions related to the “snap-back” of sanctions on Iran, effective November 5
On November 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced several actions in conjunction with the full re-imposition of sanctions on Iran effective immediately. As previously covered by InfoBytes, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 8. Following the end of the wind-down period, which authorized certain activities through November 4, OFAC issued FAQs related to the “snap-back” of Iranian sanctions. OFAC also updated its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list to add over 700 persons, including persons previously removed from the SDN list during the U.S.’s participation in the JCPOA and persons previously identified on the Executive Order 13599 list. OFAC additionally provided a technical notice containing details related to the SDN list changes.
OFAC’s announcement also refers to an amendment effective November 5 to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), in connection with President Trump’s decision to cease U.S. participation in the JCPOA. The newly issued amendment reflects sanctions re-imposed by Executive Order 13846, as covered by InfoBytes here, in addition to changes to certain sanctions lists maintained by OFAC. OFAC also announced it is “amending an existing general license in the ITSR to authorize U.S. persons to sell personal property in Iran and transfer the proceeds to the [U.S.],” if the personal property was either: (i) acquired before the individual became a U.S. person; or (ii) inherited from persons in Iran.
See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.
On October 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced an approximate $5.3 million settlement with a national bank for alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, the settlement resolves the bank’s potential civil liability for, among other things, allegedly processing net settlement payments for bank clients between January 2008 and February 2012, for which only 0.14 percent were attributable to interests of non-U.S. person entity members that were at various times identified on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals List, sanctioned, or located in countries subject to OFAC’s sanctions programs.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered factors such as (i) prior to January 2012, the bank did not appear to have in place a process to independently assess participating member entities of the non-U.S. person entity for OFAC sanctions risk, despite allegedly receiving red flag notifications regarding OFAC-sanctioned members; (ii) staff members processing the net settlement transactions may have had actual knowledge of the members; and (iii) the bank is a large, commercially sophisticated financial institution.
OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including (i) managers and supervisors were not aware of the conduct; (ii) the total harm caused was “significantly less than the total value of the transactions”; (iii) the bank cooperated with the investigation and entered into a retroactive agreement to toll the statutes of limitations; and (iv) the bank has implemented several steps as part of its risk-based compliance program to prevent future violations. OFAC also noted that the bank voluntary disclosed the violations, and that the violations constitute a non-egregious case.
OFAC reaches $1.5 million settlement with electronics company for alleged Iranian sanctions violations
On September 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.5 million settlement with a California-based electronics company for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations when it sold equipment to a Dubai-based distributor it knew or had reason to know distributed most, if not all, of its products to Iran. The settlement resolves litigation between the California company and OFAC stemming from a 2014 lawsuit challenging OFAC’s initial $4.07 million civil penalty. While the lower count ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of OFAC after finding enough evidence that the company knew the distributor’s business was primarily in Iran at the time the shipments were made, upon appeal, the D.C. Circuit reached a split decision in May 2017 setting aside OFAC’s initial penalty. While the appellate court affirmed that 34 of 39 shipments in question were in violation of the sanctions regulations, the company had produced emails indicating that the other shipments were intended for a retail store in Dubai. Because the penalty was calculated in such a way that the two shipments categories were “intertwined,” the court remanded the matter to OFAC for further consideration of the total penalty calculation.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following aggravating factors: (i) “the [a]lleged [v]iolations constituted or resulted in a systematic pattern of conduct”; (ii) the company exported goods valued at over $2.8 million; and (iii) the company had no compliance program in place at the time of the alleged violations. However, OFAC also considered mitigating factors such as the company’s status as a small business, the company not receiving a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue, and some cooperation with OFAC. OFAC further noted that following litigation, the company “took additional remedial actions to address the conduct that led to the [a]lleged [v]iolations, including terminating its relationship with [the Dubai-based distributor] and instituting an OFAC sanctions compliance program.”
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