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  • OFAC, FinCEN take action against virtual currency exchange

    Financial Crimes

    On October 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), together with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), announced two settlements for more than $24 million and $29 million, respectively, with a Washington state-based virtual currency exchange. According to OFAC’s announcement, this is the agency’s largest virtual currency enforcement action to date, and represent the first parallel actions taken by FinCEN and OFAC in this space.

    OFAC settlement. OFAC’s web notice stated that between March 28, 2014 and December 31, 2017, the exchange operated 1,730 accounts that processed 116,421 virtual currency-related transactions totaling roughly $263,451,600.13, in apparent violation of OFAC sanctions against Cuba, Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Specifically, due to alleged deficiencies in the exchange’s sanctions compliance procedures, the exchange failed to prevent persons located in the sanctioned jurisdictions from using its platform to engage in more than $263,000,000 worth of virtual currency-related transactions. OFAC claimed that while the IP addresses and physical address information collected on each customer at onboarding should have given the exchange reason to know that the persons were located in jurisdictions subject to sanctions, the exchange did not “screen customers or transactions for a nexus to sanctioned jurisdictions.” Rather, the exchange only screened transactions for hits against lists including OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. In arriving at the settlement amount of $24,280,829.20, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the exchange did not exercise due caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations and conveyed economic benefit to persons located in jurisdictions subject to OFAC sanctions, thus causing harm to the integrity of multiple sanctions programs. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the exchange provided substantial cooperation throughout the investigation, most of the transactions were for a relatively small amount and represented a small percentage when compared to the exchange’s annual volume of transactions, and the exchange has undertaken remedial measures intended to minimize the risk of recurrence of similar conduct.

    FinCEN settlement. According to FinCEN’s press release, an investigation found that from February 2014 through December 2018, the exchange failed to maintain an effective AML program, resulting in its inability to appropriately address risks associated with its products and services, including anonymity-enhanced cryptocurrencies. The exchange also failed to effectively monitor transactions on its trading platform, and relied “on as few as two employees with minimal anti-money laundering training and experience to manually review all of the transactions for suspicious activity, which at times were over 20,000 per day.” FinCEN claimed that the exchange conducted more than 116,000 transactions valued at over $260 million with persons located in jurisdictions subject to OFAC sanctions, including those operating in Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Syria, and the Crimea region of Ukraine, and failed to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) between February 2014 and May 2017. The exchange also “failed to file SARs on a significant number of transactions involving sanctioned jurisdictions, including the processing of over 200 transactions that involved $140,000 worth of virtual assets—nearly 100 times larger than the average withdrawal or deposit on the Bittrex platform—and 22 transactions involving over $1 million worth of virtual assets,” FinCEN said in its announcement. Under the terms of the consent order, the exchange—which admitted to willfully violating the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and its implementing regulations—will pay a $29,280,829.20 civil money penalty. FinCEN stated it will credit the $24,280,829.20 the exchange has agreed to pay for the OFAC violations.

    During remarks delivered at the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson discussed, among other topics, Treasury’s efforts to counter illicit finance. Nelson highlighted the aforementioned settlements, stressing that failing to comply with BSA/AML requirements and SARs filing obligations “are not something that companies focused on growth can simply put off to a later day.” He also emphasized that Treasury will continue to strengthen ties with interagency partners and international counterparts to identify and pursue potential violations.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Department of Treasury OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations Enforcement FinCEN Digital Assets Anti-Money Laundering Virtual Currency Cuba Ukraine Iran Sudan Syria SARs Compliance Fintech

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  • OFAC publishes Cuba FAQ

    Financial Crimes

    On September 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published frequently asked question (FAQ) 1090 related to Cuba sanctions. The FAQ clarifies that “U.S. persons send remittances to Cuba using digital payments,” and that OFAC’s general licenses are self-executing, meaning that if U.S. persons assess that their transactions fall within the scope of the authorizations, “they may execute such transactions without further assurance from OFAC. For transactions that do not fall within the scope of these authorizations, U.S. persons may apply for an OFAC specific license.” OFAC further noted that it “will prioritize specific license applications seeking authorization to enable remittances to flow more freely to the Cuban people via digital payments.”

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

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  • OFAC settles with banks for multiple sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On September 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $720,258 settlement with an indirect subsidiary of a Switzerland-based bank for allegedly processing transactions in violation of the Cuba, Ukraine-related, Iran, Sudan, and Syria sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, from April 2013 to April 2016, the bank processed 273 transactions totaling approximately $3,076,180 on behalf of individuals residing in Cuba, Crimea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Specifically, OFAC noted that customers in sanctioned jurisdictions were able to continue to purchase and sell securities through the U.S. financial system and to receive related dividend and interest payments until the bank took further steps to prevent such payments.

    In arriving at the settlement amount of $720,258, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that bank personnel “had reason to know they were processing transactions through the U.S. financial system for individual customers located in comprehensively sanctioned jurisdictions based on the underlying [know-your-customer (KYC)] data obtained by [the bank], which included address information indicating the customers’ location,” and “conferred approximately $3,076,180 in economic benefit to persons in Cuba, Crimea, Iran, Sudan, and Syria,” which caused harm to multiple sanctions programs' integrity. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the bank cooperated with OFAC throughout the investigation, and has undertaken remedial measures intended to minimize the risk of recurrence of similar conduct.

    Separately, the same day OFAC announced a $401,039 settlement with a different indirect subsidiary of the Switzerland-based bank for allegedly processing transactions in violation of the Cuba, Ukraine-related, Iran, Sudan, and Syria sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, from December 2011 until July 2016, the bank processed 426 transactions totaling approximately $1,233,967 on behalf of individuals ordinarily resident in Cuba, Iran, and Syria.

    In arriving at the settlement amount of $401,039, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that bank personnel “had reason to know they were processing transactions through the U.S. financial system for individual customers located in comprehensively sanctioned jurisdictions based on the underlying KYC data [the bank had] obtained,” and the bank “conferred approximately $1,233,967 in economic benefit to persons in Cuba, Iran, and Syria,” which caused harm to multiple sanctions programs' integrity. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the bank cooperated with OFAC throughout the investigation, and has undertaken remedial measures intended to minimize the risk of recurrence of similar conduct.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Of Interest to Non-US Persons SDN List Cuba Ukraine Iran Sudan Syria Enforcement OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations Securities

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  • OFAC amends Cuban Assets Control Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    On June 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, and further implementing portions of President Biden’s foreign policy to increase support for Cuban people. Specifically, the final rule “authorizes group people-to-people educational travel to Cuba and removes certain restrictions on authorized academic educational activities, authorizes travel to attend or organize professional meetings or conferences in Cuba, removes the $1,000 quarterly limit on family remittances, and authorizes donative remittances to Cuba.” The final rule is effective June 9.

    In conjunction with the announcement, OFAC published a number of new and updated Cuba-related frequently asked questions addressing, among other things, remittance transactions, travel activities, and authorized imports.

    Financial Crimes Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Department of Treasury OFAC Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations Cuba

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  • OFAC reaches multiple settlements to resolve Cuban sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On April 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $141,442 settlement with a Colorado-based multinational mining firm for allegedly violating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, between June 2016 to November 2017, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the firm purchased Cuban-origin explosives and explosive accessories from a third-party vendor to be used in a mine construction. The distributor, on the subsidiary’s behalf, imported Cuban-origin explosives and explosive accessories for the mine on at least four separate occasions, despite the subsidiary being “generally prohibited from dealing in Cuban-origin goods.” According to OFAC, shipping documents clearly identified that the goods were sourced from Cuba. In addition, purchase orders failed to contain express statements that items provided to the subsidiary may not originate from embargoed jurisdictions, nor did the subsidiary ask for country-of-origin information for the goods acquired from its suppliers. Additionally, OFAC contended that the subsidiary’s failure to provide appropriate export and trade sanctions training led to the apparent violations.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the parent firm and subsidiary failed to exercise reasonable due diligence to ensure it complied with U.S. Cuba sanctions requirements; and (ii) the firm and its subsidiaries and affiliates are “a large and sophisticated organization operating globally as a leading gold producer with experience and expertise in international transactions.” OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the apparent violations were self-disclosed and constituted a non-egregious case; (ii) the firm and subsidiary have not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (iii) the amount of payments were not significant compared to the total volume of transactions undertaken on an annual basis; and (iv) the firm and its subsidiary cooperated with the investigation, signed a tolling agreement, and are currently implementing remedial measures to prevent future violations.

    Separately, OFAC also announced a $45,908 settlement with a Florida-based company affiliated with a distributor of explosives and accessories for mining operations. According to the web notice issued in this action, on four occasions in 2016 and 2017, the company and certain affiliates procured Cuban-origin explosives and related accessories from a third-party vendor originating from Cuba on behalf of a U.S. company for the U.S. company’s mining project in Suriname in violation of the CACR. OFAC contended that the company was responsible for overseeing the processing of purchase orders and invoices for these transactions, and that in 2018, after the U.S. company customer learned of the goods’ Cuban origins, it was asked to no longer procure goods from Cuba. According to OFAC, the apparent violations occurred primarily because of the company’s failure “to understand U.S. prohibitions on dealings in Cuban property or engaging in transactions related to merchandise of Cuban origin outside the United States,” adding that the company did not have a compliance program in place when the four transactions occurred, nor did it realize the transactions were prohibited until they were flagged by the customer. The company immediately ceased all activities involving Cuba after learning of the sanctions implications but did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations, which OFAC deemed non-egregious.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the company failed to “exercise a minimal degree of caution or care” when procuring Cuban-origin goods from its supplier; (ii) the company “had actual knowledge that it was financing the provision of Cuban-origin goods for export to Suriname”; and (iii) the company’s actions harmed the U.S. sanctions program. Mitigating factors included that the company is (i) small and largely overseen by one individual; (ii) the company has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; and (iii) the company provided timely information and entered into a tolling agreement. Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that “[t]his case illustrates the risks facing companies of any size operating internationally that do not develop or maintain basic awareness of sanctions risks and do not institute appropriate measures to identify and prevent potential violations.”

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

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  • OFAC settles with money services business for Cuba sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On January 3, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $91,172 settlement against a registered money services business for allegedly processing payment transactions for guests traveling to Cuba "for reasons outside of OFAC’s authorized categories” and failing to maintain certain required records associated with Cuba-related transactions. These actions, OFAC, stated, allegedly violated the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC’s web notice, as the company scaled up its traveler services in Cuba, its technology platforms were allegedly unable to manage the associated sanctions risks, which led to the alleged violations. Among other things, OFAC maintained that the company used a manual process to screen hosts and guests for potential sanctions issues until it began using a customized IP blocking system. Additionally, the company’s alleged recordkeeping violations were primarily attributed to technical defects involving an older version of the company’s mobile application that could be used for Cuba-related travel without “maintain[ing] complete functionality for [g]uests to make an attestation regarding their reason for travel to Cuba.”

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the company is a large, sophisticated U.S.-based technology company, and that its alleged violations followed a 2015 foreign policy change with respect to Cuba, as well as associated changes to the CACR, which maintained certain specified restrictions. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company (i) did not receive a penalty notice or finding of violation in the past five years preceding the earliest transaction giving rise to this settlement; (ii) conducted a comprehensive review of its sanctions compliance program, voluntarily reported its findings to OFAC, and substantially cooperated with the investigation; and (iii) undertook significant remedial measures to ensure sanctions compliance.

    Financial Crimes Of Interest to Non-US Persons OFAC Department of Treasury Enforcement Settlement Money Service Business Cuba OFAC Sanctions OFAC Designations

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  • OFAC sanctions Cuban officials

    Financial Crimes

    On August 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against three Cuban individuals under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, this is the fourth round of sanctions since protests started in Cuba in July, as OFAC continues to impose sanctions on individuals and entities connected with actions to suppress peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba (covered by InfoBytes here and here). As a result of the sanctions, all transactions by U.S. persons or in the U.S. that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are generally prohibited. OFAC notes that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these persons, which include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”

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

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  • OFAC sanctions Cuban officials

    Financial Crimes

    On August 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against two Cuban individuals and one Cuban entity under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, this is the third round of sanctions since protests started in Cuba in July, as the Department continues to impose sanctions on individuals and entities connected with actions to suppress peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba (covered by InfoBytes here and here). As a result of the sanctions, all transactions by U.S. persons or in the U.S. that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are generally prohibited. OFAC notes that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these persons, which include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”

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

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  • Treasury issues Cuba joint fact sheet

    Financial Crimes

    On August 11, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) released a fact sheet to emphasize the U.S. government’s commitment to promoting the ability of the Cuban people “to seek, receive, and impart information” through access to the internet. According to OFAC, “[t]he fact sheet highlights the most relevant exemptions and authorizations pertinent to supporting the Cuban people through the provision of certain internet and related telecommunications services.” The fact sheet also notes that though most transactions between persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction and Cuba are prohibited under the current embargo, the U.S. government permits certain activities to support the Cuban people’s access to information on the internet. The relevant OFAC regulations can be found in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515 and the relevant BIS regulations can be found in the Export Administration Regulations, 15 C.F.R. parts 730-774.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Commerce Cuba

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  • OFAC sanctions Cuban officials

    Financial Crimes

    On July 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against two Cuban individuals and one Cuban entity under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. According to OFAC, the sanctions expand on Treasury’s July 22 designations by sanctioning additional persons in connection with actions to suppress peaceful, pro-democratic protests in that began on July 11 in Cuba (covered by InfoBytes here). As a result of the sanctions, all transactions by U.S. persons or in the U.S. that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons are generally prohibited. OFAC notes that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these persons, which include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”

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

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