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On May 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the publication of A Framework for OFAC Compliance Commitments to provide guidance on the essential components of a risk-based sanctions compliance program (SCP) for organizations subject to U.S. jurisdiction, along with foreign entities that conduct business in or with the U.S. or U.S. persons, or use U.S.-origin goods or services. The framework highlights five essential compliance components that should be incorporated into an effective SCP: (i) senior management commitment; (ii) risk assessment “identifying potential OFAC issues” likely to be encountered; (iii) internal controls; (iv) testing and auditing; and (v) training. The framework notes that should an entity be subject to a civil monetary penalty (CMP), the Office of Compliance and Enforcement will determine, as appropriate, what other elements should be added to the entity’s SCP. In additional, OFAC states it will “consider favorably” entities that are able to demonstrate the existence of an effective SCP at the time of an apparent violation, which may mitigate a CMP and contribute towards the determination as to whether the violations are “deemed ‘egregious.’”
On April 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced regulations effective April 29 implementing Executive Order (E.O.) 13848. As previously covered by InfoBytes, E.O. 13848 was issued last September to authorize sanctions against foreign persons found to have engaged in, assisted, or otherwise supported foreign interference in U.S. elections. OFAC stated it intends to supplement the final rule with further regulations, “which may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance, general licenses, and statements of licensing policy.”
On April 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against the two individuals identified as current or former officials of the Government of Venezuela for providing support to former President Maduro’s regime. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006, FIN-2017-A003, and FIN-2018-A003 provide additional information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds, as well as human rights abuses connected to foreign political figures and their financial facilitators. As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by them subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with designated persons.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
On April 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against two individuals and three entities “acting as conduits for sanctions evasion schemes" for Hizballah finances. The designated entities and individuals are also subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, and allows OFAC the authority to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals and entities, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by them subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with designated persons.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on sanctions involving Hizballah networks.
On April 30, the OCC released a proposed Innovative Pilot Program (and accompanying program FAQs), which is designed to support responsible innovation in the U.S. federal banking system by allowing eligible entities to test novel products, services, or processes that could present significant benefits to consumers, businesses, financial institutions, and communities. Under the program, the OCC would provide eligible entities with regulatory input, through tools such as interpretive letters during the development and implementation of proposed innovative activities. Any proposal the agency determines to have potentially predatory, unfair, or deceptive features; poses undue risk to consumers; or poses undue safety and soundness risk to an institution would be deemed as inconsistent with existing law and policy and not permitted in the program. Highlights of the proposed program include:
- Eligibility. OCC-supervised financial institutions may participate in the program independently or when partnered with a third-party entity to offer an innovative activity. Third-party entities, not supervised by the OCC, may not independently participate. Additionally, eligible entities seeking to participate in the program must establish an uncertainty (“perceived to be a barrier to development and implementation”) that justifies the need for the OCC’s involvement during development or implementation of the innovative product or service and must also show how the innovative activity has the potential to benefit the needs of consumers, businesses, and or communities.
- Parameters. The OCC anticipates participation in the program to last between three and 24 months, but the duration of each pilot will be on a case-by-case basis. The program may include the use of interpretive letters, supervisory feedback, and technical assistance, as well as potential determinations of legal permissibility before a live test. Notably, the program will not provide any statutory or regulatory waivers, and all participants must continue to comply with applicable laws and regulations.
- Evaluation Process. The four-step application process includes (i) a preliminary discussion with the OCC about the proposed pilot; (ii) submission of a tailored expression of interest (EOI) to the OCC’s Office of Innovation or assigned supervisory office; (iii) evaluation of the EOI by the OCC; and (iv) acceptance or declination of the request. If a proposal is accepted, the testing phase will begin and the entity will be required to submit periodic information and reports, including key performance indicators, issues identified, and any steps taken to address the issues.
The OCC will maintain the confidentiality of proprietary information, including the identity of any participating entities. Comments on the proposal must be submitted by June 14.
On April 25, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $75,375 settlement with a New Jersey corporation for two alleged violations of the Ukraine Related Sanctions Regulations. The settlement resolves potential civil liability for the company’s alleged issuance of two separate invoices for software licensing and software support services to an entity previously identified on OFAC’s Sectoral Sanctions Identification List. According to OFAC, the designated entity’s attempts to remit payment were rejected by financial institutions after it was determined that the transaction by prohibited by OFAC regulations on certain debts. However, the corporation—which allegedly failed to have in place a sanctions compliance program and failed to “recognize that the delayed collection of payment was prohibited”—explored possible options to collect the payment and did not seek guidance or authorization from OFAC.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, such as the corporation “demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. economic sanctions requirements by repeatedly ignoring warning signs that its conduct constituted or likely constituted a violation of OFAC’s regulations.” Moreover, OFAC claimed that the corporation did not voluntary self-disclose the apparent violations to OFAC, and that senior management had knowledge of the alleged conduct.
OFAC also considered numerous mitigating factors, including that (i) the alleged violations “resulted in minimal actual harm to the sanctions programs” and constituted a non-egregious case; (ii) the corporation has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; and (iii) the corporation has implemented a risk-based compliance program to minimize the risk of recurring conduct.
On April 25, the Federal Reserve Board announced an enforcement action against a Japanese bank for alleged weaknesses in its New York branch’s anti-money laundering risk management and compliance programs, including a failure to comply with applicable rules and regulations, including the Bank Secrecy Act. Under the terms of the order, the bank is required to, among other things, (i) develop and implement a written plan to strengthen the board of directors’ oversight of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance and Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) regulations; (ii) submit an enhanced written compliance program that complies with BSA/AML requirements; (iii) submit an enhanced, written customer due diligence plan; (iv) submit a written program to ensure compliant, timely, and accurate suspicious activity monitoring and reporting; (v) submit a written plan to enhance OFAC regulation compliance; and (vi) submit a written plan for independent testing of the bank’s compliance with all applicable BSA/AML requirements. A civil money penalty was not assessed against the bank or the branch.
On April 24, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) announced the formation of a new office, the Office of Financial Innovation, that will act as a central point of coordination for issues related to financial innovation by FINRA members. The new office, which is an outgrowth of FINRA’s Innovation Outreach Initiative (previously covered by InfoBytes here), will collaborate with various FINRA teams as well as regulators, investors, and other stakeholders to encourage the use of fintech in a way that strengthens market integrity and protects investors. The new office also will incorporate FINRA’s existing Office of Emerging Regulatory Issues, which focuses on analyzing new and emerging risks and trends related to the securities market.
On April 25, the CFPB issued a Request for Information (RFI) on two aspects of the Remittance Rule, which took effect in 2013, and requires financial companies handling international money transfers, or remittance transfers, to disclose to individuals transferring money information about the exact exchange rate, fees, and the amount expected to be delivered. The RFI seeks feedback on (i) whether to propose changing the number of remittance transfers a provider must make to be governed by the rule, as well as the possible introduction of a small financial institution exception; and (ii) a possible extension of a temporary exemption to the Rule set to expire July 21, 2020, that allows certain insured institutions to estimate exchange rates and certain fees they are required to disclose (the RFI states that the EFTA section 9191 expressly limits the length of the temporary exemption and does not authorize the CFPB to extend the term beyond the July 21 expiration date unless Congress changes the law). The RFI also seeks feedback on the Rule’s scope of coverage, including whether the Bureau should change a safe harbor threshold that allows persons providing 100 or fewer remittance transfers in the previous and current calendar year to be outside of the Rule’s coverage. Additionally, the RFI includes a consideration of issues discussed in the Bureau’s assessment of the Rule, which examined if the Rule had been effective in achieving its goals. Comments on the RFI are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.
Separately, on April 24, the CFPB released a revised assessment report of its Remittance Rule to “correct an understatement of the dollar volume of remittance transfers by banks in the original report,” which increases the share of the remittance dollars transferred by banks. The Bureau notes that the correction does not affect the report’s conclusions. (See previous InfoBytes coverage of the October 2018 assessment report here.)
Treasury sanctions Venezuela’s central bank and official connected to Maduro regime; sanctions Nicaraguan bank and official
On April 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Venezuela’s central bank, along with an individual determined to be a current or former official of the Government of Venezuela, for providing support to former President Maduro’s regime. OFAC states that the U.S. “has taken steps to ensure that regular debit and credit card transactions can proceed and personal remittances and humanitarian assistance continue unabated and are able to reach those” affected by the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006, FIN-2017-A003, and FIN-2018-A003 provide additional information concerning the efforts of Venezuelan government agencies and individuals to use the U.S. financial system and real estate market to launder corrupt proceeds, as well as human rights abuses connected to foreign political figures and their financial facilitators. OFAC concurrently issued amendments to existing Venezuela-related general licenses as well as two new general licenses in connection with the designations, including “authorizations to ensure that U.S. persons may continue to engage in and facilitate non-commercial, personal remittances and the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela.”
Additionally the same day, OFAC designated the Nicaraguan president’s son along with a Nicaraguan bank for actions supporting the Ortega regime. According to OFAC, the bank has, among other things, provided material, technical, and financial support to the previously sanctioned vice president, as well as money laundering assistance to the regime. OFAC also cited to the president’s son’s involvement with foreign investors to provide “preferential access to the Nicaraguan economy.” As a result, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned entities and individuals, and of any entities owned 50 percent or more by them subject to U.S. jurisdiction, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from entering into transactions with the sanctioned entities and individuals.
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