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OFAC Settles with Illinois-based Company for Alleged Violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations
On September 13, OFAC announced a $4,320,000 settlement with an Illinois-based company to resolve allegations that it violated the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), 31 C.F.R. part 560. From approximately May 5, 2009 to March 2, 2012, OFAC alleges that on 48 occasions the company shipped seeds to consignees located in Europe or the Middle East with the knowledge or reason to know that the seeds were ultimately destined for Iran distributors. The settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following aggravating factors: (i) the company acted willfully by engaging in conduct it knew to be prohibited; (ii) the company acted recklessly by ignoring its OFAC compliance responsibilities; (iii) the company’s employees, including mid-level management, had “contemporaneous knowledge” that the seeds were ultimately destined for Iran, and for almost eight months after the Director of Finance learned of OFAC’s investigation, it continued sales to its Iranian distributors; (iv) the company’s conduct resulted in providing $770,000 in economic benefit to Iran; (v) the company failed to cooperate with OFAC at the start of the investigation, providing information that was inaccurate, misleading, or incomplete; and (vi) the company is a subdivision of a commercially sophisticated, international corporation. Mitigating factors considered when determining the settlement amount include, but are not limited to, the company’s lack of sanctions history with OFAC for five years before the first of the alleged 48 violations and the remedial steps the company took to ensure future compliance with OFAC sanctions.
On September 7, OFAC announced a $43,200 settlement with an Oregon-based manufacturing company for alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), 31 C.F.R. part 560. Specifically, OFAC alleges that the company violated §§ 560.204 and 560.206 of the ITSR between April 2008 and July 2010 by exporting orthodontic supplies, with a collective value of $59,886, to Germany, United Arab Emirates, and/or Lebanon with the knowledge or reason to know that the supplies were ultimately destined for Iran. The settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following aggravating factors: (i) the company acted willfully by exporting products it knew or had reason to know were ultimately destined for Iran; (ii) the company’s management knew or had reason to know that the products were destined for Iran; and (iii) the company failed to implement a compliance program until June 2008. Mitigating factors considered when determining the settlement amount include (i) the fact that alleged violations did not “result in great economic or other benefit conferred on Iran” because the transactions were generally consistent with OFAC’s licensing policy; (ii) the company’s lack of sanctions history with OFAC for five years before the first of the seven alleged violations; (iii) the company’s cooperation with OFAC by agreeing to toll the statute of limitations; (iv) the company’s development of an economic sanctions compliance procedure in June 2008 and the subsequent draft of a written compliance policy; and (v) the company’s lack of “commercial sophistication in conducting international sales at the time of the alleged violations.”
On June 23, OFAC announced a $107,691.30 settlement with a North Carolina-based medical device company for apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560 (the Regulations). Specifically, the company violated § 560.204 of the Regulations by exporting a number of its medical products to its United Arab Emirates distributor throughout April and May 2011 with the knowledge or reason to know that the products were ultimately destined for Iran. The settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the following aggravating factors: (i) the company acted willfully by exporting products it knew or had reason to know were ultimately destined for Iran, editing its destination control statement at the request of its distributor and continuing to conduct business with its distributor after receiving confirmation that the distributor had reexported the company’s products to Iran; (ii) the company’s former CEO and International Sales Manager knew the products were ultimately destined for Iran; and (iii) the company did not have a sanctions compliance program at the time of the apparent violations. OFAC considered the following as mitigating factors when determining the settlement amount: (i) limited harm was inflicted on U.S. sanctions program objectives because OFAC likely would have granted the company a license to export the medical products to Iran, had the company sought permission to do so; (ii) the company had no prior OFAC sanctions history; (iii) the company took remedial steps, such as establishing an OFAC compliance program; and (iv) the company “cooperated with OFAC’s investigation and agreed to toll the statute of limitations for a total of 513 days.”
On June 8, OFAC updated its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Relating to the Lifting of Certain U.S. Sanctions Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In addition to adding nine FAQs related to Foreign Entities Owned or Controlled by U.S. Persons (see, K.14 through K.22), OFAC added two FAQs, C.15 and C.16, regarding Financial and Banking Measures. Specifically, C.15 clarifies that U.S. financial institutions “can transact with, including by opening or maintaining correspondent accounts for, non-U.S., non-Iranian financial institutions that maintain correspondent banking relationships or otherwise transact with Iranian financial institutions that are not on the SDN List.” Non-U.S. financial institutions remain prohibited from routing Iran-related transactions through U.S. financial institutions or involve U.S. persons in such transactions, unless the transactions are exempt from regulation or licensed by OFAC. FAQ C.16 addresses whether or not a non-U.S., non-Iranian entity may engage in transactions with Iranian persons not on the SDN List if one or more U.S. persons serve on the non-Iranian entity’s Board of Directors or senior managers. While the presence of one or more U.S. persons on the Board of Directors or serving as a senior manager does not, according to C.16, necessarily preclude the entity from transacting with Iranian persons not on the SDN List, OFAC stresses that “U.S. persons must be walled off or “ring-fenced” from Iran-related business.” OFAC recommended that non-U.S., non-Iranian entities consider implementing broad recusal policies to wall off U.S. persons for the institution’s Iran-related business.
OFAC Issues Finding of Violation for Alleged Violations of the Reporting, Procedures, and Penalties Regulations
On March 16, OFAC issued a Finding of Violation to a New York-based international digital payments solutions and technology company for allegedly violating the Reporting, Procedures and Penalties Regulations (RPPR), 31 C.F.R. part 501. According to OFAC, the company failed to report that it held accounts – albeit dormant – in which two Iranian banks on OFAC’s SDN List had an interest. OFAC asserted that, while no company personnel appeared to have knowledge of the conduct that led to the violations, the company had reason to know that it maintained funds associated with the sanctioned Iranian banks because it is “a large and commercially sophisticated company that deals primarily with banks and other financial institutions.” OFAC also noted that the company’s failure to report the accounts resulted in OFAC’s reports to Congress being incomplete, that the failure to record interest on the accounts reduced the value of the blocked accounts, and that the company apparently did not have internal controls sufficient to prevent or identify the violations. On the other hand, OFAC acknowledged that there was no actual knowledge of the violations or a history of similar violations, that the funds did not reach the sanctioned parties, and that the company eventually disclosed the issue and then fully cooperated with the investigation.
On January 16, the Department of the Treasury issued a statement regarding Implementation Day under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1 (the United States, China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany), the European Union, and Iran concerning Iran’s nuclear program. In response to Iran taking the appropriate nuclear-related measures, the United States followed through on lifting nuclear-related “secondary sanctions” on Iran, which included certain financial and banking-related sanctions. To summarize the effect of Implementation Day, OFAC issued guidance and FAQs. As outlined in the FAQs and in addition to lifting the nuclear-related “secondary sanctions,” the United States removed more than 400 individuals and entities from OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List). Still, as Treasury Secretary Lew noted, “other than certain limited exceptions provided for in the JCPOA, the U.S. embargo broadly remains in place, meaning that U.S. persons, including U.S. banks, will still be prohibited from virtually all dealings with Iranian entities.”
OFAC Issues Finding of Violation to a Bank for Violations of Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations
On October 21, OFAC issued a Finding of Violation to a Chicago-based bank as the successor of a bank that processed six funds transfers totaling approximately $67,000. According to OFAC, the predecessor bank, between February 3, 2011 and March 10, 2011, processed six funds transfers on behalf of its customer “for the purpose of paying an outstanding balance owed to an Iranian entity located in Iran for the purchase of Iranian-origin carpets,” allegedly resulting in a violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). The bank allegedly failed to remove its customer “from [its] False Hit List or implement any additional measures to prevent or identify possible violations involving the [customer]” after OFAC removed a general license for the importation of Iranian-origin carpets, which became effective September 29, 2010.
OFAC stated that its determination to issue a Finding of Violation reflects that (i) the predecessor bank may have not been aware of the risks associated with failing to properly review and update a false hit list; (ii) a staff member was aware of the conduct that led to two of the violations, and had “reason to know that the customer may process additional transactions in violation of the ITSR”; and (iii) the bank failed to maintain a compliance program with procedures for updating its internal sanctions list following changes to OFAC-administered sanctions programs. On the other hand, OFAC also considered that (i) no managers or supervisors were aware of the conduct that led to the ITSR violation; (ii) the bank had not previously received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation; and (iii) the bank – pre and post-merger – substantially cooperated with OFAC during the investigation.
On October 18, the Department of the Treasury released a statement on reaching the formal “Adoption Day” of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the plan reached between the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Adoption Day is the day JCPOA participants will begin taking steps necessary to implement their JCPOA commitments. According to Treasury Secretary Lew, October 18 marks an “important milestone” as “Iran begins taking its nuclear-related measures and the United States and [its] partners prepare to lift nuclear-related sanctions in response.” Although this action means that the JCPOA’s effective date is October 18, 2015, no sanctions will be lifted until Implementation Day, which will occur after international inspectors confirm that Iran has met its commitments under the JCPOA. As decided in July and outlined in an OFAC press release, licenses with certain credentials will remain in effect in accordance with their terms until Implementation Day. OFAC also issued FAQs concerning Adoption Day. Commenting on the implications of Adoption Day, the White House likewise issued a Statement that it had directed the heads of all relevant executive departments and agencies of the United States to begin preparations to implement U.S. commitments under the JCPOA.
On August 6, OFAC announced a $271,815 settlement with a New York-based insurance company with an overall focus on marine insurance and related lines of business, professional liability insurance, and commercial umbrella and primary and excess casualty businesses. According to OFAC, from May 8, 2008 to April 1, 2011, the company and its London branch office, “issued global protection and indemnity (“P&I”) insurance policies that provided coverage to North Korean-flagged vessels and covered incidents that occurred in or involved Iran, Sudan, or Cuba—some of which led to the payment of claims.” The company’s willingness to engage with OFAC-sanctioned countries resulted in 48 alleged violations of Foreign Assets Control Regulations, Executive Order 13466 of June 26, 2008, North Korea Sanctions Regulations, Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, and Cuban Asset Control Regulations. OFAC stated that (i) the company did not maintain a formal compliance program at the time it issued the P&I insurance policies; and (ii) the company’s London office personnel “misinterpreted the applicability of OFAC sanctions regulations.” The final settlement amount reflects the fact that managers and supervisors knew or had reason to know that the majority of the insurance policies and claims payments at issue involved OFAC-sanctioned countries; the company is a commercially sophisticated financial institution; and it did not have a formal OFAC compliance program in place at the time the apparent violations occurred. Mitigating factors included the company’s cooperation with OFAC’s investigation; lack of prior enforcement action; and its remedial action plan to implement a sufficient OFAC compliance program.
On July 29, OFAC announced that it levied a $82,260 civil penalty against Blue Robin, Inc. for violating certain provisions of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, from 2009 through 2010, Blue Robin conducted 33 transactions valued at over $200,000, where Blue Robin imported web development services from PersiaBMW, an Iranian company. The services rendered by PersiaBMW were used to develop web-based systems and applications to streamline online business processes and operations for Blue Robin’s customers. In its consideration of the penalty amount, OFAC determined that “Blue Robin acted recklessly because it knew it was importing services from an Iranian company over a period of more than five years, it sent payments through unlicensed money exchangers instead of through traditional commercial banking channels, and it appears that the company did not take any steps to research the legality of funds transfers to Iran or the importation of services from Iran until after it lost contact with its unlicensed money exchanger.” Nevertheless, due to Blue Robin’s self-disclosure and substantial cooperation with OFAC’s investigation, the penalty amount imposed against Blue Ribbon was below the base penalty amount for the violations.
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