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Update: OFAC Releases Guidance on the Continuation of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief Under the JPOA
On July 7, the P5 + 1, EU, and Iran agreed to extend the JPOA for three days to further negotiations in reaching a comprehensive solution surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, OFAC issued updated guidance informing that all JPOA sanctions relief detailed in the Guidance, FAQs, and Statement of License Policy issued in November 2014 has been extended through July 10, 2015. This updated guidance replaces guidance previously issued by OFAC on June 30, 2015.
On June 30, the P5 + 1, European Union, and Iran agreed to extend the Joint Plan of Action for seven days, furthering negotiations to reach a solution to reduce Iran’s nuclear program. In conjunction with the announcement of the seven day extension, OFAC published Guidance on the Continuation of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief Implementing the Joint Plan of Action, as Extended. The guidance continues the JPOA sanctions relief period, provided in November 2014 as implemented via Guidance, FAQs, and Statement of Licensing Policy, from June 30 through July 7, 2015.
On September 9, OFAC released an enforcement action against a CFTC-registered Introducing Broker and Commodity Trading Advisor that operates an electronic trading platform that allows customers to automatically place currency foreign exchange (FX) trades with broker-dealers. The company agreed to pay $200,000 to settle potential civil liability for apparent violations of Iran, Syria, and Sudan sanctions rules. According to OFAC, over “a number of years” the company maintained accounts for over 400 persons in Iran, Sudan, and Syria, and exported services to these customers by placing FX trades via its platform. The company also (i) originated eight funds transfers totaling $10,264.36 destined for two individuals located in Iran; and (ii) failed to screen or otherwise monitor its customer base for OFAC compliance purposes at the time of the apparent violations. OFAC determined that the company did not voluntarily self-disclose the apparent violations, and that the apparent violations constitute a non-egregious case. The base penalty for the apparent violations was $844,090,000. The lower settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the matter’s facts and circumstances, including the following mitigating factors: (i) the company is small with limited business operations; (ii) the company has taken remedial action in response to the apparent violations; (iii) the company has not received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions giving rise to the apparent violations; and (iv) the company substantially cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.
On June 5, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) announced a Dutch aerospace firm has agreed to pay $21 million to resolve allegations that the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and Sudan. OFAC alleged that from 2005 to 2010, the company indirectly exported or re-exported aircraft spare parts to Iranian or Sudanese customers, which the company either specifically procured from or had repaired in the United States, and required the issuance of a license by a federal agency at the time of shipment. The company self-reported 1,112 apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and 41 apparent violations of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations. The settlement includes the payment of a $10.5 million civil penalty to OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, a forfeiture of an additional $10.5 million pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement reached with the DOJ, and the acceptance of responsibility for its alleged criminal conduct. OFAC stated that the base penalty for the alleged violations was over $145 million, however it agreed to a lower settlement after considering that the company self-disclosed the violations and the company: (i) had no OFAC sanctions history in the five years preceding the date of the earliest of the alleged violations; (ii) adopted new and more effective internal controls and procedures, and (iii) provided substantial cooperation during the investigation.
On January 23, the Treasury Department’s OFAC announced that a Luxembourg bank agreed to pay $152 million to resolve potential civil claims that the bank concealed the interest of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) in certain securities held in one of the Luxembourg bank’s custody accounts. OFAC claims that from December 2007 through June 2008, the bank held an account at a U.S. financial institution through which the CBI maintained a beneficial ownership in 26 securities valued at nearly $3 billion. After assuring OFAC of its intention to terminate all business with its Iranian clients, the bank allegedly transferred the securities to another European bank’s custody account at the Luxembourg bank. Though the transfer changed the record ownership of the securities, the custody account allowed CBI to retain beneficial ownership. OFAC alleged that in acting as the channel through which the CBI held interests in the securities, the Luxembourg bank exported custody and related securities services in violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. OFAC highlighted the bank’s “strong remedial response” after learning of the alleged lapse mitigated the penalty amount. Although OFAC did not identify the specific enhanced controls implemented by the bank, it encouraged other firms operating as securities intermediaries to implement certain specific measures: (i) make customers aware of the firm’s U.S. sanctions compliance obligations and have customers agree in writing not to use their account(s) with the firm in a manner that could cause a violation of OFAC sanctions; (ii) conduct due diligence, including through the use of questionnaires and certifications, to identify customers who do business in or with countries or persons subject to U.S. sanctions; (iii) impose restrictions and heightened due diligence requirements on the use of certain products or services by customers who are judged to present a higher risk; (iv) attempt to understand the nature and purpose of non-proprietary accounts, including requiring information regarding third parties whose assets may be held in the accounts; and (v) monitor accounts to detect unusual or suspicious activity.
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. The subsidiaries pleaded guilty to related specific acts of corruption, including those alleged in a separate criminal information. The DOJ alleged, among other things, that employees of certain subsidiaries engaged in at least three schemes to pay bribes to foreign officials in exchange for government contracts. In addition the parent company agreed to pay over $65 million and submit to compliance and monitoring requirements to resolve parallel SEC civil allegations that the company violated the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA.
Separately, the parent company entered into an agreement with the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, as well as an agreement with the Department of Commerce, to resolve alleged sanctions and export controls violations. Collectively, those agreements require the company to, among other things, pay $100 million in penalties and fines—inclusive of a $91 million settlement with OFAC—and undergo external audits of its efforts to comply with the relevant U.S. sanctions law for calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. Those payments resolve allegations, described in part in another DOJ criminal information, that the company and certain subsidiaries exported or re-exported oil and gas drilling equipment to, and conducted business operations in, sanctioned countries—including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria—without the required U.S. Government authorization.
On October 21, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed a $1.5 million civil penalty in an enforcement action against a UAE-based investment and advising company for violating the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. OFAC determined that the firm recklessly or willfully concealed or omitted information pertaining to $103,283 in funds transfers processed through U.S.-based financial institutions for the benefit of persons in Iran. OFAC determined that the firm’s actions were egregious because (i) it did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, has no OFAC compliance program, and did not cooperate in the investigation, (ii) the firm’s management had actual knowledge or reason to know of the conduct, and (iii) the conduct resulted in potentially significant harm to the U.S. sanctions program against Iran.
On January 10, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory to highlight practices being used to evade sanctions on Iran, including the use of third-country exchange houses or trading companies that are acting as money transmitters to process funds transfers through the United States in support of unauthorized business with Iran. According to the advisory, the transactions at issue omit references to Iranian addresses and omit the names of Iranian persons or entities in the originator or beneficiary fields. Funds are then transmitted from an exchange house or trading company located in a third country to or through the United States on behalf of an individual or company located in Iran or on behalf of a U.S.-designated person without referencing the involvement of Iran or the designated persons. OFAC urged U.S. financial institutions to (i) monitor payments involving the third-country exchange house or trading company that may be processing commercial transactions related to Iran, and requesting additional information from correspondents on the nature of such transactions and the parties involved, (ii) conduct account and/or transaction reviews for individual exchange houses or trading companies that have repeatedly violated or attempted to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, and (iii) contact their correspondents that maintain accounts for, or facilitate transactions on behalf of, a third-country exchange house or trading company that engages in any of the practices identified in the advisory.
U.S. Law Enforcement Authorities and Regulators Resolve Significant Money Laundering and Sanctions Investigations
On December 11, a major international bank holding company announced agreements with U.S. law enforcement authorities and federal bank regulators to end investigations into alleged inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws by the holding company and its U.S. subsidiaries (collectively the banks). Under these agreements, the banks will make payments totaling $1.92 billion, will continue to cooperate fully with regulatory and law enforcement authorities, and will take further action to strengthen its compliance policies and procedures. As part of the resolution, the bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ pursuant to which the banks will forfeit $1.256 billion, $375 million of which satisfies a settlement with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The four-count criminal information filed in conjunction with the DPA charges that the banks violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and to conduct appropriate due diligence on its foreign correspondent account holders. The DOJ also alleged that the banks violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act by illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in certain countries that were subject to sanctions enforced by OFAC. The banks agreed to pay a single $500 million civil penalty to satisfy separate assessments by the OCC and FinCEN related to the same alleged conduct, as well as a $165 million penalty to the Federal Reserve Board. The banks already have undertaken numerous voluntary remedial actions, including to (i) substantially increase AML compliance spending and staffing, (ii) revamp their Know Your Customer program, (iii) exit 109 correspondent relationships for risk reasons, and (iv) claw back bonuses for a number of senior officers. The banks also have undertaken a comprehensive overhaul of their structure, controls, and procedures, including to (i) simplify the control structure, (ii) create new compliance positions and elevate their roles, (iii) adopt a set of guidelines limiting business in those countries that pose a high financial crime risk, and (iv) implement a single global standard shaped by the highest or most effective anti-money laundering standards available in any location where the banks operates. Pursuant to the DPA, an independent monitor will evaluate the banks’ continued implementation of these and other enhanced compliance measures.
In a separate matter, on December 10, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. and the DOJ announced the resolution of a joint investigation into a British bank’s alleged movement of more than $200 million through the U.S. financial system primarily on behalf of Iranian and Sudanese clients by removing information that would have revealed the payments as originating with a sanctioned country or entity, and thereby avoiding OFAC scrutiny. To resolve the matter, the bank was required to pay $227 million in penalties and forfeiture, and to enter into a DPA and corresponding Statement of Facts. Through the DPA, the bank admitted that it violated New York State law by falsifying the records of New York financial institutions and by submitting false statements to its state and federal regulators about its business conduct, and agreed to certain enhanced compliance practices and procedures. The payment also satisfies a settlement with OFAC over the same practices, while the Federal Reserve Board required an additional $100 million penalty to resolve its parallel investigation. The settlement follows an earlier settlement between this British bank and the New York Superintendent of Financial Services regarding the same alleged conduct.
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