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On December 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a nearly $100,000 settlement with a California-based digital asset security company for 183 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC, between March 2015 and December 2019, the company processed 183 digital currency transactions, totaling over $9,000, on behalf of individuals who were located in sanctioned jurisdictions, such as the Crimea region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. OFAC notes that, prior to April 2018, the company allowed users to open accounts by providing only a name and email address, and while it then amended its policies to require all new accountholders to verify the country in which they were located, it did not perform additional verification or diligence on their actual location.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) failed to implement appropriate, risk-based sanctions compliance controls; and (ii) had reason to know that some of its users were located in sanctioned jurisdictions based on users’ IP address data.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, such as (i) the company not having received a penalty notice from OFAC in the proceeding five years; (ii) the company cooperating with the investigation; and (iii) the company having undertaken remedial measures, including hiring a Chief Compliance Officer and implementing a new OFAC policy.
On December 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations against three state-owned entities “controlled by the Cuban military with strategic roles in the Cuban economy.” According to OFAC, the entities are identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, with two of the entities being designated for, among other things, using “their Panamanian incorporation to subvert international trade restrictions.” One of the sanctioned entities, OFAC notes, is a financial investment and remittance company “authorized by the Central Bank of Cuba to finance export operations, conduct financial leasing operations, and handle commercial distribution of remittance cards.” Find continuing InfoBytes coverage on the Cuban Assets Control Regulations here.
On October 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) “to further implement portions of the President’s foreign policy toward Cuba to deny the Cuban government access to funds in connection with remittances to Cuba.” Among other things, the final rule amends several general licenses to remove any transactions that involve entities or subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List (CRL) from the scope of certain remittance-related general authorizations. According to OFAC, the CRL is a list of “entities and subentities under the control of, or acting for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services or personnel with which direct financial transactions would disproportionately benefit such services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.” Additionally, the final rule also clarifies that transactions that relate to the collection, receipt or forwarding of remittances involving an identified entity or subentity are “not authorized as an ordinarily incident transaction where the terms of the general or specific license expressly exclude any such transactions.” In conjunction with the announcement of the final rule, OFAC also updated and issued several new Frequently Asked Questions. The final rule takes effect November 26, allowing for a 30-day implementation period in order to allow for technical implementation of the additional restrictions.
On October 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a more than $5.8 million settlement with a New York-incorporated travel assistance services company to resolve 2,593 apparent violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, from roughly June 2010 to January 2015, the company formally codified an indirect payment process in its procedures manual, in which it “intentionally referred” Cuba-related payments to a Canadian affiliate to avoid “processing reimbursement payments directly to Cuban parties and to travelers while they were located in Cuba.” Reimbursements were then sent from the company to the Canadian affiliate for those payments. While the company had a sanctions compliance policy during the time of the apparent violations to screen for individuals or entities on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, it allegedly failed to comply with screening requirements for countries and regions subject to OFAC prohibitions.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) knew it was illegal to make direct payments to Cuban service providers and therefore formalized the aforementioned referral process; (ii) provided “prohibited post-travel claim reimbursements directly to unauthorized Canadian subscribers who travelled to Cuba”; and (iii) knew of the conduct at issue because the indirect payment process was codified and approved by its CEO.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the CACR was later amended to authorize some of the apparent violations; (ii) the company enhanced its sanctions compliance program by, among other things, implementing a formal structure for compliance personnel and conducting sanctions training for all employees; (iii) the company voluntarily disclosed the violations and signed a tolling agreement, including multiple extensions; and (iv) the company terminated the conduct leading to the apparent violations and has undertaken remedial measures to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.
On September 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to further implement portions of the President’s foreign policy to deny the Cuban regime sources of revenue. Among other things, the final rule (i) amends an interpretive provision and several general licenses regarding lodging and related transactions at certain properties in Cuba identified on the State Department’s “Cuba Prohibited Accommodations List,” including those owned or controlled by the Cuban government; (ii) amends four general licenses to restrict the importation of Cuban-origin alcohol and tobacco products into the U.S.; (iii) amends a general license to eliminate the authorization for U.S. persons to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba (specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for certain transactions); and (iv) eliminates a general license that authorizes U.S. persons “to participate in or organize certain public performances, clinics, workshops, other athletic or non-athletic competitions, and exhibitions, and replaces it with a specific licensing policy” (again permitting the authorization of specific activities via specific license on a case-by-case basis). The final rule also makes several technical and conforming changes, and is effective September 24.
On May 6, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $257,862 settlement with an animal nutrition company for 44 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, between July 2012 and September 2017, the company and its owned or controlled foreign entities allegedly coordinated agricultural commodity sales to a Cuban company without OFAC authorization by processing Cuba-related business through its foreign affiliates and developing “a transaction structure that it incorrectly determined would be consistent with U.S. sanctions requirements.” OFAC noted that the company “could potentially have availed itself of such authorization” or applied for a specific licenses from OFAC, but “failed to seek appropriate advice or otherwise take the steps necessary to authorize these transactions.” OFAC determined that in light of the fact that the transactions may have been eligible for authorization, as well as the company’s voluntary self-disclosure, compliance enhancements, and other factors, the apparent violations constituted a non-egregious case.
OFAC advised U.S. companies with a global presence to maintain an appropriate sanctions compliance program and to seek “appropriate advice and guidance” when contemplating business that may be impacted by U.S. sanctions programs. In addition, OFAC referenced enforcement and compliance resources and cautioned that sanctions violations can arise from a misinterpretation or lack of understanding of OFAC’s regulations, including general licenses and authorizations. OFAC advised U.S. persons to “exercise[e] caution when dealing with foreign subsidiaries or affiliates located in regions subject to U.S. sanctions programs” and to understand the full scope and applicability of authorizations related to certain sanctions prohibitions.
On January 14, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on a North Korean trading corporation and a China-based North Korean lodging facility for facilitating North Korea’s practice of sending laborers abroad. According to OFAC, North Korea’s continued practice of exporting North Koreans as illicit laborers is an ongoing attempt to undermine and evade United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The designated companies’ exportation of workers on behalf of the country, OFAC stated, has generated revenue for the North Korean government or the Workers’ Party of Korea. 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, they may be subject to U.S. secondary sanctions.
On December 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement with a U.S.-based property and casualty company for 6,474 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, between August 2010 and January 2015, the company’s Canadian branch provided travel insurance policies to Canadian citizens traveling to Cuba, and continued to do so even though the company knew early on that that policies were being issued related to travel to Cuba but did not investigate it until 2014. In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including the fact that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the issue to OFAC, and that the company enhanced its OFAC compliance. OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the company had knowledge of the violations as early as 2010, and that the travel policies “provided economic benefit to Cuba.”
Also on December 9, OFAC announced another settlement, this time with a Swiss worldwide insurance and reinsurance company, which formerly was a subsidiary of a U.S. company. The settlement resolves potential civil liability for 20,291 alleged violations of the CACR between January 2010 and December 2014 for issuing insurance policies for Cuba-related travel, because the policies, though global in scope, did not include an exclusionary clause “for risks that would violate U.S. sanctions law.” OFAC considered a number of mitigating factors in determining the settlement amount, including the fact that the company voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations and represented that it conducted a risk assessment of its offices and developed compliance policies and procedures. Additionally, OFAC considered several aggravating factors, including that the company issued global policies that did not contain exclusionary clauses, the activity resulted from a pattern or practice spanning several years, and the company is a large and commercially sophisticated financial institution.
On October 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a settlement of more than $2.7 million with a multinational corporation, on behalf of three subsidiaries, to resolve potential civil liability for 289 alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The settlement resolves allegations that between December 2010 and February 2014, the subsidiaries accepted payments on 289 occasions from an entity identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons “for goods and services provided to a Canadian customer.” OFAC alleged that although the subsidiaries negotiated and entered into contracts with the Canadian customer—and invoices were sent to the customer—the designated entity was approved as a third-party payer and paid more than 65 percent of the total transactions. OFAC asserted that the subsidiaries failed to undertake sufficient diligence into the activities of the Canadian customer, and noted that the sanctions screening software used by the subsidiaries was set to screen for only one version of the designated entity’s name.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors including that (i) OFAC has not issued a violation against the subsidiaries in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions at issue; (ii) the corporation identified the alleged violations by testing and auditing its compliance program, and implemented several remedial measures in response to the alleged violations, which included improvements to its compliance program; and (iii) the corporation entered into, and agreed to extend, multiple statute of limitations tolling agreements.
OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the subsidiaries “failed to take proper or reasonable care with respect to their U.S. economic sanctions obligations”; (ii) the subsidiaries’ actions allowed a large volume of high-value transactions to be conducted with the designated entity, causing “substantial harm” to the CACR objectives; and (iii) the corporation’s submissions to OFAC “leave substantial uncertainty about the totality of the benefits conferred” to the designated entity through the Canadian customer.
On September 6, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments effective October 9 to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR), which implement changes in accordance with President Trump’s 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba.” Key elements of the changes include:
- Lowering the value of permitted remittances to Cuba. Family remittances will be capped at $1,000 U.S. dollars per quarter that a single remitter can send to an individual Cuban national. Remittances to close family members of prohibited Cuban officials and members of the Cuban Communist Party will be forbidden. While the amendments rescind the authorization for donative remittances, they add a new provision authorizing remittances to certain individuals and independent non-governmental organizations in Cuba “to support the operation of economic activity . . . independent of government control.”
- “U-turn” transactions. The amended sanctions revoke what is commonly referred to as the Cuban “U-turn” authorization. Effective next month, financial institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction will no longer be authorized to process Cuba-related payments that originate and terminate outside the United States. However, financial institutions subject to U.S. jurisdiction will be permitted to reject such transactions.
The changes will have the greatest impact on U.S. banks offering foreign correspondent banking services and foreign banks utilizing those services, increasing compliance risks for both. They also shut a significant window to the U.S. financial system that foreign persons conducting international trade with Cuba previously enjoyed.
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