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FinCEN Releases Advisory Alert for Financial Institutions, OFAC Issues Sanctions Against South Sudanese Government Officials
On September 6, the Treasury Department issued a press release announcing multiple actions taken in response to the “continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, Sigal Mandelker, stated, “These actions send a clear message to those enriching themselves at the expense of the South Sudanese people that we will not let them exploit the U.S. financial system to move and hide the proceeds of their corruption and malign behavior.”
Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). FinCEN issued an advisory (FIN-2017-A004) to financial institutions to address concerns that certain South Sudanese senior political figures may potentially move assets using the U.S. financial system. FinCEN projects that since 2013—when a new political conflict began in Sudan—certain senior political officials from both the government and opposition parties have “engaged in and profited from corrupt practices.” The advisory provides due diligence guidance for U.S. financial institutions, issues a reminder regarding suspicious activity report filing obligations, and warns financial institutions to “assess the risk for laundering of the proceeds of public corruption associated with specific particular customers and transactions.”
Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Pursuant to Executive Order 13664, which blocks the property of certain persons with respect to South Sudan and authorizes sanctions against persons who threaten the peace, security, or stability of South Sudan, OFAC issued sanctions against three government officials and three entities owned by one of the sanctioned individuals. The identified individuals’ actions include, among other things, (i) “actions or policies that threaten the peace, security, and stability of South Sudan”; (ii) “actions or policies that have the purpose or effect of expanding or extending the conflict in South Sudan or obstructing reconciliation or peace talks or processes”; and (iii) “obstruction of the activities of international peacekeeping, diplomatic, or humanitarian missions in South Sudan, or of the delivery or distribution of, or access to, humanitarian assistance.” The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with the designated entities and individuals, and further states that “all of these individuals’ and entities’ assets within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked.” Additionally, individuals designated under Executive Order 13664 are banned from entry into the U.S.
On August 24, President Trump announced the issuance of new sanctions against Venezuela. Executive Order 13808 “Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to the Situation in Venezuela,” adds additional restrictions to those declared in Executive Order 13692. The sanctions prohibit transactions related to the following:
- “new debt with a maturity of greater than 90 days” in conjunction with the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company (state-owned company);
- “new debt with a maturity of greater than 30 days, or new equity, of the Government of Venezuela, other than debt” in conjunction with the state-owned company;
- “bonds issued by the Government of Venezuela prior to the effective date of this order”;
- “dividend payments or other distributions of profits to the Government of Venezuela from any entity owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by the Government of Venezuela;
- “[t]he purchase, directly or indirectly, by a [U.S.] person or within the [U.S.], of securities from the Government of Venezuela, other than securities qualifying as new debt with a maturity of less than or equal to 90 days [for state-owned company debt] or 30 days [for other Government of Venezuela debt].”
On August 25, OFAC also issued four General Licenses containing additional provisions: (i) General License 1 imposes a wind-down period through September 24, 2017 for contracts and other agreements that were effective prior to the Executive Order's effective date; (ii) General License 2 authorizes certain transactions involving a specifically listed holding company; (iii) General License 3 authorizes dealings in certain specified Government of Venezuela-related bonds that would otherwise be prohibited; and (iv) General License 4 allows new debt transactions related to “the provision of financing for, and other dealings in new debt related to the exportation or reexportation, from the [U.S.] or by a U.S. person . . . of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices, or replacement parts and components for medical devices,” provided compliance with the outlined requirements and limitations. OFAC also published answers to several related frequently asked questions concerning the additional sanctions.
On August 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it had reached a $415,350 settlement with a Singaporean oilfield services company for an alleged 55 violations of Iran sanctions regulations. OFAC asserted that the company “exported or attempted to export 55 orders of oil rig supplies from the [U.S.] to Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, and then re-exported or attempted to re-export these supplies to four separate oil rigs located in Iranian territorial waters” from approximately October 2011 through February 2013. OFAC alleged that each instance of this conduct, which the company did not voluntarily self-disclose, violated OFAC’s Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. Had the company not settled, OFAC determined that civil monetary penalties ranged from approximately $923,000 to $13.75 million. In establishing the penalty, OFAC considered that the company: (i) failed to act with an appropriate level of caution by exporting goods to oil rigs located in Iranian territorial waters; (ii) aided the development of Iran's energy resources; (iii) “is a large, sophisticated company with 14 offshore drilling rigs doing business throughout the world;” and (iv) “did not have an OFAC compliance program in place at the time of the transactions.” As for mitigating factors, OFAC determined that: (i) the company has no prior sanctions history with OFAC; (ii) the company took remedial action by implementing an OFAC compliance program; and (iii) the company cooperated with the investigation and entered into a tolling agreement with OFAC.
On August 22, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on ten entities and six individuals from China, Russia, Singapore, and Namibia for their roles in supporting North Korea’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and attempted evasion of U.S. sanctions. The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with the designated entities and individuals, and further states that “any property or interests in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.” OFAC’s notice identified entities and individuals that (i) assisted already-designated persons supporting North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs; (ii) dealt in the North Korean energy trade; (iii) facilitated overseas labor to North Korea; and (iv) enabled sanctioned North Korean entities to access the U.S. and international financial systems. Targets include three Chinese coal companies allegedly responsible for importing nearly half a billion dollars' worth of North Korean coal, as well as three Russians individuals and two Singapore-based companies OFAC claimed were involved in providing oil to North Korea.
On August 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it had reached a $518,063 civil settlement with a California-based international freight forwarder for alleged violations of sanctions against Iran. OFAC claimed that the company shipped “used and junked cars and parts” from the U.S. to Afghanistan, via Iran, on 140 separate occasions from approximately April 2010 through June 2012. OFAC alleged that each instance of this conduct, which the company “did not voluntarily self-disclose,” violated OFAC’s Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). See 31 C.F.R. § 560.204.
Had the company not settled, OFAC determined that civil monetary penalties ranged from approximately $1.5 million to $35 million. In establishing this range, OFAC alleged that the following were aggravating factors: (i) the company “demonstrated a reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by failing to exercise a minimal degree of caution or care in transshipping goods through Iran”; (ii) the company’s “President and co-owner knew and approved of the transshipments via Iran”; (iii) the company “provided an economic benefit to Iran through its pattern of conduct and the volume of transactions in which it engaged”; and (iv) the company is “sophisticated” and has “experience with U.S. export laws and OFAC regulations, particularly the ITSR.”
As for mitigating factors, OFAC alleged that: (i) the goods “did not appear to have an end use in Iran”; (ii) the company “has no prior OFAC sanctions history”; (iii) the company is a “small business,” and the alleged violations “constituted less than one percent of its total shipments” during the relevant time period; (iv) the company “had an OFAC compliance program in place” during the relevant time period; (v) the company “took remedial steps”; and (vi) the company “cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.”
On August 10, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it had reached a settlement with a global company that provides services in regulatory risk mitigation for alleged violations of OFAC sanctions against Iran. OFAC claimed that, beginning in 2012, on 44 separate occasions, the firm imported Iranian-origin services into the U.S., and on 28 different occasions, engaged in “transactions or dealings related to Iranian-origin services by approving and facilitating its foreign subsidiaries’ payments to providers of Iranian-origin services.” In establishing the penalty, OFAC considered that the firm failed to exercise a minimal degree of caution—and senior management allegedly knew or had reason to know the transactions related to services of Iranian-origin—and that the transactions giving rise to the apparent violations were not eligible for OFAC authorization and yielded economic benefits to Iran. Furthermore, OFAC claimed the “frequency and duration of the apparent violations constitute a pattern or practice of conduct,” and that the firm’s ineffective compliance program failed to recognize the risks of engaging in the aforementioned transactions. OFAC maintained the firm violated the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560. OFAC also considered the company’s prior history of not being sanctioned; its significant remedial measures; and substantial cooperation with OFAC’s investigation.
The settlement requires the firm to pay more than $250,000 to settle the claims, which the firm did not voluntarily self-disclose to OFAC.
On August 9, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it was imposing sanctions on eight Venezuelan individuals for their role in supporting the “Constituent Assembly,” which was instituted under President Nicolas Maduro in order to allegedly undermine the democratic process by “rewrit[ing] the Venezuelan constitution and dissolv[ing] Venezuelan state institutions.” Seven of the individuals sanctioned are current or former officials of the Venezuelan government, and one was an active participant in identified “anti-democratic” actions. All assets belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from having any dealings with them. As previously reported in InfoBytes, sanctions were imposed on President Maduro on July 31.
On July 31, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it was imposing sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, pursuant to Executive Order 13692, for undermining the country’s democracy and rule of law after recent elections and committing widespread human rights abuses. The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with President Maduro and freezes all assets belonging to him subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin explained that the July 30 “illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people. By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
The July 31 sanctions follow an announcement on July 26 in which OFAC announced it was imposing sanctions against 13 current or former Venezuelan government officials associated with election corruption and human rights violations. As a result, all assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with any of the individuals on the list.
OFAC Fines International Technology Subsidiary More Than $12 Million for Violating Iranian Sanctions
On July 27, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it had reached a settlement with a subsidiary of a Singapore-based international technology group for alleged violations of OFAC sanctions against Iran. OFAC claimed that between August 25, 2010 and November 5, 2011, the subsidiary entered into contracts with multiple Iranian companies, engaged several third-party vendors to provide goods and services for the contracts, and caused “at least six separate financial institutions to engage in the unauthorized exportation or re-exportation of financial services from the [U.S.] to Iran.” Furthermore, the subsidiary made a statement to a non-U.S. financial institution in Singapore (the Bank) stating, “In consideration of [the Bank] agreeing to continue providing banking services in Singapore to our company, we . . . hereby undertake not to route any transactions related to Iran through [the Bank], whether in Singapore or elsewhere.” However, the subsidiary began originating USD funds transfers through the Bank related to Iranian business transactions. Moreover, its actions provided “significant economic benefit” to Iran and individuals on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Specifically, OFAC maintained the subsidiary violated the following sanctions programs: (i) the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and (ii) the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560.
The settlement requires the company to pay more than $12 million to settle the claims, which the company did not voluntarily self-disclose to OFAC.
OFAC Assesses $2 Million Penalty Against International Oil and Gas Company for Violations of Ukraine-Related Sanctions
On July 20, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) announced a $2 million civil money penalty assessed against an international oil and gas company, including two of its U.S. subsidiaries, for alleged violations of OFAC’s Ukraine-Related sanctions regulations. OFAC claims that, in May 2014, the company impermissibly dealt in services of a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation who had been placed on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDNs) by signing eight legal documents related to oil and gas projects in Russia with the individual. Although the company claimed that it believed such actions were permissible, OFAC noted that the “plain language of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions” clearly indicates otherwise. In particular, OFAC stated that the sanctions blocked “any property and interests in property, and prohibited any dealing in any property and interests in property, of a person so designated.” In addition, the sanctions expressly forbid U.S. persons from “any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person,” and, according to OFAC, do not differentiate between an individual’s “personal” and “professional” capacity—a distinction the company tried to make.
Thus, concluded OFAC, information available at the time of the alleged violations “clearly put [the company] on notice that OFAC would consider executing documents with an SDN to violate the prohibitions in the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations.” The $2 million penalty was the largest that OFAC could impose under statute. OFAC imposed the penalty based on the following factors: (i) the company did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations; (ii) the company demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements by disregarding clear warning signs; (iii) the company’s senior-most executives knew of the official’s status as an SDN when it executed the legal documents; (iv) the company caused significant harm to the sanctions program by dealing with a senior official of the Russian Federation; and (v) the company is a sophisticated and experienced oil company that has global operations and routinely deals in goods, services and technology subject to U.S. economic sanctions and export controls.
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