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  • OFAC updates Syrian sanctions guidance; issues DPRK advisory on information technology workers

    Financial Crimes

    On May 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) amended  a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) and published a new General License (GL) regarding Syrian sanctions. Back in April (covered by InfoBytes here), OFAC published FAQ 884, which relates to non-U.S. persons’ (including nongovernmental organizations and foreign financial institutions) exposure to U.S. secondary sanctions under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection act of 2019 (Caesar Act). Specifically, FAQ 884 addresses sanctions exposure for activities authorized under the Syrian Sanctions Regulations. OFAC’s recent update of FAQ 884 clarifies that “OFAC will not consider transactions to be ‘significant’ for the purpose of a sanctions determination under the Caesar Act if U.S. persons would not require a specific license from OFAC to participate in such a transaction.” Additionally, GL 22 now authorizes “activities in certain economic sectors in non-regime held areas of Northeast and Northwest Syria.”

    Later in the week, OFAC announced that Treasury, the Department of State, and the FBI issued an advisory regarding an attempt by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and DPRK information technology (IT) workers to obtain employment while posing as non-DPRK nationals. Among other things, the advisory provides information on how DPRK IT workers operate and identifies red flags for companies to avoid hiring DPRK freelance developers. A Fact Sheet was also published to provide information on the advisory.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Of Interest to Non-US Persons Syria North Korea OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC announces first-ever sanctions against virtual currency mixer

    Financial Crimes

    On May 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13722 against a virtual currency mixer used by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to support its cyber activities and money-laundering. According to OFAC, in March, a DPRK state-sponsored cyber-hacking group carried out the largest virtual currency heist to date, worth almost $620 million, from a blockchain project linked to an online game. The virtual currency mixer was used to process over $20.5 million of the illicit proceeds. OFAC noted that the sanctions are the first-ever sanctions on a virtual currency mixer. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury North Korea SDN List Virtual Currency Digital Assets OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • OFAC reaches $6 million settlement with logistics company

    Financial Crimes

    On April 25, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $6 million settlement with a freight forwarding and logistics company for allegedly processing transactions in violation of Iran-Related Sanctions Regulations, among others. According to OFAC’s web notice, between approximately January 2013 and February 2019, the company processed payments through the U.S. financial system in connection with sea, air, and rail shipments to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran, and Syria, involving the property or interests in property of an entity on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) in apparent violation of OFAC sanctions. Specifically, in processing such payments, the company allegedly “failed to adopt or implement policies and controls that prevented it from conducting transactions that involved designated parties or persons in sanctioned jurisdictions.”

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that (i) the company “acted with reckless disregard for U.S. economic sanctions laws when, over the period of six years, it caused at least 2,958 payments involving shipments from, to, or through sanctioned jurisdictions or the blocked property or an interest in blocked property of entities on the SDN List to be routed through U.S. financial institutions”; (ii) the company had knowledge “of the apparent violations”; and (iii) nearly “14 percent of the apparent violations were for transactions involving entities blocked by OFAC for terrorism or [weapons of mass destruction (WMD)] concerns.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (ii) “voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations to OFAC and cooperated with OFAC’s investigation”; and (iii) “ultimately took extensive actions to remedy its compliance gaps.”

    Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that this “action highlights the importance of instituting strong internal controls and procedures to govern payments involving affiliates, subsidiaries, agents, or other counterparties when any of them conduct business with sanctioned jurisdictions or persons.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons Enforcement Iran North Korea OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions North Koreans for development of WMDs

    Financial Crimes

    On April 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13382 against five entities for supporting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK’s) development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions. According to OFAC, the sanctions target a DPRK WMD research and development organization, which is connected to the development of the DPRK’s intercontinental ballistic missile launches, along with four of its revenue generating subsidiaries. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned entities are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC noted that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated entities, including transactions transiting the U.S. OFAC’s announcement further warned that any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates significant transactions or provides significant financial services for any of the designated individuals may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.

    Financial Crimes North Korea SDN List OFAC Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions Russians for supporting DPRK’s WMD programs

    Financial Crimes

    On March 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13687 against two individuals and three entities based in Russia for allegedly supporting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) “ongoing development of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.” The action specifically “targets a group of foreign individuals and companies that aid a DPRK defense industry-related procurement agent in Russia.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC noted that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons. OFAC’s announcement further warned that any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates significant transactions or provides significant financial services for any of the designated individuals may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions, and that persons found to have engaged in certain transactions with the designated persons “may themselves be exposed to designation.”

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations SDN List North Korea Russia

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  • OFAC sanctions North Koreans

    Financial Crimes

    On January 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13382 against five Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) individuals based in Russia and China that OFAC designated as “responsible for procuring goods for the DPRK’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile-related programs.” According to OFAC, these sanctions are part of the U.S.’s ongoing efforts to counter the DPRK’s “continued use of overseas representatives to illegally procure goods for weapons.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC noted that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated person, including transactions transiting the U.S. OFAC’s announcement further warned that any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates significant transactions or provides significant financial services for any of the designated individuals may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Department of Treasury OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations SDN List North Korea

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  • OFAC settles with bank for alleged NKSR and Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations violations

    Financial Crimes

    On December 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $115,005 settlement of two cases with a Delaware-based bank for allegedly processing transactions in violation of the North Korea Sanctions Regulations (NKSR) and the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, in the first matter, between December 2016 and August 2018, the bank processed 1,479 transactions totaling $382,685, and maintained nine accounts on behalf of five employees of the North Korean Mission to the United Nations without a license from OFAC. Additionally, the bank allegedly often misidentified North Korea or did not properly complete the citizenship field in the customer profiles, which resulted in failing to flag the accounts. The web notice explained that “[u]nder the [NKSR], a general license authorizing certain transactions with the North Korean Mission to the United Nations specifies that it does not authorize U.S. financial institutions to open and operate accounts for employees of the North Korean mission. It further specifies that U.S. financial institutions are required to obtain OFAC specific licenses to operate accounts for such persons.” According to the web notice, since the bank did not obtain a specific license to offer these services, its conduct resulted in apparent violations.

    In arriving at the settlement amount of $105,238, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) failed to use due caution or care in processing the 1,479 transactions, which was in violation of the NKSR for over a year; (ii) “had reason to know that it maintained accounts for North Korean nationals because at account opening, the account holders of all nine accounts presented to [the bank] North Korean passports”; and (iii) “is a large and commercially sophisticated financial institution with a global presence.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) “enhanced its controls for identifying government officials of sanctioned countries”; and (ii) “updated its operating procedures to specify that reviews of customers in or affiliated with sanctioned jurisdictions must be escalated.”

    In the second matter, according to the web notice, the bank allegedly maintained accounts for a U.S. resident who was on OFAC’s SDN List. The bank did not block the account and disclose to OFAC until after the fifth high-confidence sanctions screening alert was generated because the previous alerts had a “match on full name DOB and geographical location.” The bank’s fraud unit, unaware of the sanctions-related reason for account closure, then credited one of the individual’s accounts, which caused it to be re-opened. The notice reported that the failure to correctly identify the individual as a person on the SDN List was the result of human error and a breakdown in the bank’s sanctions compliance procedures. Further, “[i]n addition to incorrectly dispositioning these alerts, [the bank’s] analysts contravened [the bank’s] procedures which require alerts to be escalated if a match occurs in first and last name and any additional information field.” Such conduct resulted in 145 apparent violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Sanctions Regulations.

    In arriving at the settlement amount of $9,766, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) “failed to exercise due caution or care for U.S. economic sanctions requirements by incorrectly adjudicating high-confidence sanctions screening alerts four times over four years, despite full date-of-birth and first and last name matches”; (ii) permitted $35,514.13 in transactions by an individual on the SDN List; and (iii) “is a large and sophisticated financial institution with a global presence.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the bank did not appear to have had actual knowledge of the conduct that led to the apparent violations, and represented that it has terminated this conduct and has undertaken remedial measures.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Of Interest to Non-US Persons Settlement Enforcement OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations Department of Treasury North Korea

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  • Indonesian company settles with OFAC for $1 million for North Korea sanctions violations, enters into deferred prosecution agreement with DOJ

    Financial Crimes

    On January 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a more than $1 million settlement with an Indonesian-based paper products manufacturer for 28 apparent violations of the North Korea Sanction Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, between 2016 and 2018, the company “exported cigarette paper to entities located in or doing business on behalf of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),” including a Chinese intermediary that procured paper on behalf of an OFAC-designated company operating under an alias. The company allegedly directed payments for its DPRK-related exports to a U.S. dollar bank account held at a non U.S. bank, leading to 28 wire transfers being cleared through U.S. banks. OFAC noted that while the company initially referenced the DPRK entities on documents such as invoices, packing lists, and bills of lading, it eventually replaced the references with the names of intermediaries located in third countries.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) “acted with reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions laws and regulations” by directing DPRK-related payments to its U.S. dollar account; (ii) was aware that management had actual knowledge of the conduct at issue; and (iii) the company’s actions “caused U.S. persons to confer economic benefits to the DPRK and an OFAC-designated person.”

    OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) cooperated with OFAC’s investigation; (ii) has undertaken remedial measures, ceased all dealings with the DPRK, and enhanced its compliance controls and internal policies by, among other things, procuring a sanctions screening service from a third-party provider, implementing a know-your-customer process, and requiring that “all trading companies or agents purchasing goods on behalf of other end-users sign an anti-diversion agreement that includes OFAC sanctions compliance commitments.”

    Separately, the DOJ announced that the company agreed to pay a $1.5 million fine and enter into a deferred prosecution agreement for conspiring to commit bank fraud after admitting it deceived U.S. banks in order to trade with the DPRK. The company also “agreed to implement a compliance program designed to prevent and detect violations of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations and to regularly report to the [DOJ] on the implementation of that program.” The company is also required to report violations of relevant U.S. laws to the DOJ and “cooperate in the investigation of such offenses.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Enforcement Sanctions Settlement Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations North Korea DOJ

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  • OFAC sanctions entities for assisting North Korean coal exportation

    Financial Crimes

    On December 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Orders 13687, 13722, and 13810 against six entities related to the alleged transportation of North Korean coal. OFAC also identified four vessels as blocked property. According to OFAC, by engaging in activities prohibited under UN Security Council resolution 2371, the six sanctioned entities have assisted North Korea’s continued efforts to circumvent UN prohibitions on the exportation of North Korean coal. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated individuals or entities, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions. OFAC also recommended all relevant jurisdictions review a global advisory issued last May by the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, along with the U.S. Coast Guard (covered by InfoBytes here), which warned the maritime industry of deceptive shipping practices used by Iran, North Korea, and Syria to evade economic sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions entities for assisting North Korean regime

    Financial Crimes

    On November 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13722 against two entities allegedly involved in the exportation of forced labor from North Korea. According to OFAC, the sanctioned entities—a Russian construction company and a North Korean company—have “engaged in, facilitated, or been responsible for the exportation of forced labor from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea or Workers’ Party of Korea.” In addition, OFAC updated the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Person List to provide additional information on three previously designated companies responsible for sending North Korean workers to Russia and China. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign financial institutions that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated individuals or entities, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Designations

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