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On May 14, the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, issued a global advisory warning the maritime industry of deceptive shipping practices used by Iran, North Korea, and Syria to evade economic sanctions. The “Sanctions Advisory for the Maritime Industry, Energy and Metals Sectors, and Related Communities” expands upon previously issued advisories and discusses due diligence approaches that entities, including financial institutions, should employ to monitor illicit activity and mitigate the risk of potentially engaging in prohibited activities or transactions. Among other things, the advisory provides a list of general compliance practices that may help entities “in more effectively identifying potential sanctions evasion.” These include: (i) institutionalizing sanctions compliance programs; (ii) establishing Automatic Identification System (AIS) best practices and contractual requirements to monitor for manipulations and disruptions, which may be an indication of potential illicit or sanctionable activity; (iii) monitoring ships throughout the entire transaction lifecycle, including those leased to third parties; (iv) knowing your customers and counterparties; (v) exercising supply chain due diligence; (vi) incorporating these best practices into contractual language; and (vii) engaging in industry information sharing of challenges, threats, and risk mitigation measures.
See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on global shipping advisories.
OFAC designates Iranian front company and owner; DOJ files concurrent criminal charges and related civil forfeiture action
On May 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a dual Iranian and Iraqi national and a company owned, controlled, or directed by the designated individual for their alleged involvement with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). According to OFAC, the designated individual allegedly provided support for several years to IRGC-QF’s smuggling operations by securing entry to vessels carrying IRGC-QF shipments, using business connections to facilitate logistics, and developing revenue generating illicit business opportunities. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these persons that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons,” and warned foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitating significant transactions or providing significant financial services to the designated individuals may subject them to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.
On the same day, the DOJ announced a two-count criminal complaint against the designated individual and another Iranian national for allegedly conspiring to provide U.S. financial services to help several Iranian entities and their front companies purchase a petroleum tanker. The defendants allegedly concealed that the sale of the vessel was destined for Iran, and attempted to evade the regulations, prohibitions, and licensing requirements of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. The DOJ also filed a related civil forfeiture complaint claiming that more than $12 million is subject to forfeiture.
On March 31, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) motion to dismiss and denied two Iranian corporations’ (plaintiffs) cross-motion for summary judgment. According to the opinion, the plaintiffs requested to be delisted from OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) following the Court of Justice of the European Union’s decision in 2013 to lift its own sanctions, which were, according to the plaintiffs, “the basis for OFAC including [the plaintiffs] in its SDN list in the first place.” The plaintiffs were added to the SDN List in 2011 after OFAC allegedly determined that they had assisted certain U.S. and United Nations-sanctioned Iranian companies in procuring goods for uranium enrichment activities. OFAC denied the plaintiffs’ request to be delisted in 2018, causing the plaintiffs to file a complaint seeking to remove the sanctions or “cause OFAC to request the information needed to remove [the plaintiffs] from the SDN List,” citing violations of their rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Administrative Procedure Act. Among other things, the plaintiffs argued that OFAC’s decision to reject the request for delisting was based on “undisclosed/secret information,” and further, OFAC “never provided any evidence to substantiate the allegations” that the plaintiffs had worked with other OFAC-sanctioned Iranian firms. Moreover, the plaintiffs contended that OFAC violated their “procedural and substantive due process rights because it failed to provide [the plaintiffs] notice and opportunity to be heard before designating [them] as an SDN.”
The court, however, found among other things that OFAC’s actions were not “arbitrary or capricious,” stating that while OFAC considered classified evidence of the plaintiffs’ involvement, it also provided unclassified summaries to the plaintiffs. “In denying [the plaintiffs’] request for removal, OFAC requested and reviewed information provided by [the plaintiffs], and it responded to [the plaintiffs’] arguments for reconsideration,” the court stated, noting that OFAC ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs failed to submit credible arguments or evidence “establishing that an insufficient basis exists for the company’s designation.” In addition, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment argument, stating that the constitutional claims fail because the “Supreme Court has long held that non-resident aliens without substantial connections to the United States are not entitled to Fifth Amendment protections.”
OFAC sanctions front company network for providing financial support to Islamic Revolutionary Guards
On March 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against 20 Iran- and Iraq-based front companies and individuals for providing financial support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force, as well as certain Iranian-backed terrorist militias in Iraq. Among other activities, OFAC alleged that the designated companies and individuals laundered money through Iraqi front companies, sold Iranian oil to the Syrian regime, and smuggled weapons to Iraq and Yemen. Pursuant to the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these persons that are in or come within 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 conduct or facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated persons, they may be “subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.”
On March 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13382 against five United Arab Emirates-based companies for facilitating the Iranian regime’s petroleum and petrochemical sales, which helps to finance Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force. According to OFAC, the sanctions follow similar designations of key revenue sources (covered by InfoBytes here and here). As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “U.S. persons are generally prohibited from transacting with them.” Moreover, OFAC warned that “foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitate significant transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to, the persons designated today risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.”
Foreign financial institutions should conduct enhanced due diligence when facilitating humanitarian trade with Iran
On February 27, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the finalization of terms to the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA) between the U.S. and Swiss governments in order to increase the transparency of humanitarian trade with Iran and help safeguard against “the Iranian regime’s diversion of humanitarian trade for malign purposes.” According to Treasury, “the SHTA presents a voluntary option for facilitating payment for exports of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical devices to Iran in a manner that ensures the utmost transparency. Under the SHTA, participating financial institutions commit to conducting enhanced due diligence to ensure that humanitarian goods reach the people of Iran and are not misused by the Iranian regime.” Foreign governments and foreign financial institutions interested in establishing humanitarian mechanisms consistent with guidance published last October (covered by InfoBytes here) are instructed to reach out to Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for additional information or to request evaluation of a proposed framework. Foreign governments and financial institutions are also reminded to carefully consider the due diligence and reporting expectations outlined in the guidance.
In conjunction with the finalization of the SHTA, OFAC issued General License (GL) 8, titled “Authorizing Certain Humanitarian Trade Transactions Involving the Central bank of Iran,” as well as related FAQs. GL 8 authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations or the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.
On February 21, the U.S. Treasury Department released a public statement issued by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) following the conclusion of its plenary meeting held February 19-21, calling on its members and urging all jurisdictions to impose countermeasures on Iran for failing to address deficiencies in its anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime. FATF provided specific examples of countermeasures within The Interpretive Note to Recommendation 19, which include, among other things, (i) “[p]rohibiting financial institutions from establishing branches or representative offices in” Iran; (ii) “[l]imiting business relationships or financial transactions with” Iran; and (iii) “[r]equiring financial institutions to review, amend, or if necessary, terminate correspondent relationships with [Iranian] banks.” According to Treasury, the “countermeasures should be developed and implemented to protect the international financial system from the ongoing money laundering, terrorist financing, and proliferation financing . . . risks emanating from Iran.”
Treasury also discussed recent FATF guidance on digital identity for customer identification and verification. According to FATF, the guidance “explains how digital ID systems can meet FATF customer due diligence requirements and will assist governments and financial institutions worldwide when applying a risk-based approach to using digital ID systems.”
FATF’s public statement also discussed progress made by the U.S. to strengthen its AML/CFT system, including Treasury’s customer due diligence rulemaking and beneficial ownership requirements that took effect in 2018. According to Treasury, the U.S. is also one of the first countries to voluntarily submit to an assessment of its compliance with new FATF standards regarding virtual assets.
Finally, Treasury reported that FATF is calling “on all countries to apply countermeasures on North Korea due to the ongoing money laundering, terrorist financing, and weapons of mass destruction proliferation financing risks to the international financial system.” On the same day as its public statement, Treasury released an updated list of jurisdictions under increased monitoring that are actively working with FATF to address strategic AML/CFT deficiencies.
On January 31, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced charges against an employee (defendant) of an Iranian company for bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and for making false statements to federal agents regarding financial transactions made through U.S. banks to benefit Iranian entities and individuals. According to the indictment, an agreement between the Iranian government and the Venezuelan government resulted in a construction contract for housing units in Venezuela where an Iranian company would construct the units and be paid with money funneled through U.S. banks by a Venezuelan state-owned company subsidiary. The defendant was purportedly part of a committee formed to guide the project. In coordination with other individuals, the defendant allegedly directed money from the Venezuelan company to the Iranian company through bank accounts—set up to hide the transactions from U.S. banks—in Switzerland. The indictment charges that, among other things, the defendant “knowingly and willfully” conspired with others to commit bank fraud against an FDIC-insured institution by directing the Venezuelan company to route $115 million in payments for the Iranian company to the Swiss bank account through correspondent U.S. banks in New York. Additionally, when the defendant was interviewed by federal agents, he “knowingly and willfully” concealed the scheme and made materially false statements about his knowledge of the applicability of sanctions against Iran. The indictment seeks forfeiture of any proceeds or property obtained by the defendant in the course of the alleged offenses.
On January 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it took action against four petroleum products companies (network) designated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13846 for making payments to “an entity instrumental in Iran’s petroleum and petrochemical industries, which helps to finance Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and its terrorist proxies.” The Iranian entity is on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons and its property is blocked in conformance with E.O. 13599. According to OFAC, the network transferred payments to the Iranian entity for petroleum exports and “worked to conceal the Iranian origin of these products.” Among other things, these sanctions prohibit foreign financial institutions from “knowingly facilitat[ing] transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to,” the designated petroleum products broker. See the new Iran-related designations here.
OFAC identifies Venezuelan aircraft as blocked property, issues amended Venezuela-related general licenses
On January 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments to the list of property implicated by the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List) pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13884, which blocks the property of the Venezuelan government. OFAC identified 15 aircraft that either transported senior members of the Maduro regime or “operated in an unsafe and unprofessional manner in proximity to U.S. military aircraft, while in international air space.” OFAC reiterated that its “regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked persons.”
In connection with the designations, OFAC issued amended Venezuela General License (GL) 20B, titled “Authorizing Official Activities of Certain International Organizations Involving the Government of Venezuela.” GL 20B authorizes certain transactions and activities otherwise prohibited under E.O.s 13850 and 13857 involving Banco Central de Venezuela, and E.O. 13884 involving the Government of Venezuela.
Earlier, on January 17, OFAC issued two additional amended Venezuela GLs. GL 5B provides that on or after April 22, all transactions related to the financing for, and other dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela SA 2020 8.5 Percent Bond that would be prohibited under a certain subsection of E.O. 13835, as amended by E.O. 13857, are authorized. GL 8E, titled “Authorizing Transactions Involving Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA) Necessary for Maintenance of Operations for Certain Entities in Venezuela,” supersedes GL 8D to extend the expiration date for certain authorizations through April 22.
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference