Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
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.
On July 3, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Cuban state-run oil import and export company for continuing to provide support to the Maduro regime by the importation of oil from Venezuela. The sanctions are pursuant to Executive Order 13850. OFAC alleges that the state-run company has been the recipient of oil from Venezuela and has expanded its operations to include non-traditionally traded oil products. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these individuals, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by such individuals, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC.” OFAC notes that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities.
Additionally, the announcement notes that OFAC is delisting an oil tanking company in recognition of the company’s actions to ensure that its vessels are not complicit in supporting the Maduro regime. As a result of the delisting, all property and interest of the company is now unblocked and lawful transactions involving U.S. persons are no longer prohibited.
On April 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against four companies for their alleged involvement in the transportation of oil from Venezuela to Cuba. According to OFAC, the companies’ actions offer support to former President Maduro’s regime and contribute to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In addition, OFAC identified nine vessels as blocked property owned by the identified companies. As a result, all property belonging to the sanctioned entities, and interests in property of the sanctioned entities (or 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 them. Furthermore, OFAC also referred financial institutions to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network advisories FIN-2017-A006, FIN-2017-A003, and FIN-2018-A003 for further 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.
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.
U.K. subsea services company and subsidiaries to pay $440,000 for Cuban and Iranian sanctions violations
On April 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced two settlements totaling more than $440,000 with a U.K. subsea services company and certain subsidiaries that operate in the oil and gas industry. The first settlement, for $227,500, resolves potential civil liability for seven alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). According to OFAC, two of the company's Malaysian affiliates produced analytical reports and conducted workshops for oil well drilling projects in Cuban territorial waters related to projects managed by companies including Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, which was previously designated by OFAC in January (see InfoBytes coverage here). OFAC considered various aggravating factors—including that the alleged violations constitute an egregious case—and noted that the company/subsidiaries “willfully violated U.S. sanctions laws and regulations when they knowingly dealt with Cuban interests despite prior notification of their unlawfulness.” OFAC also noted that senior managers “deliberately concealed their dealings with Cuba on multiple occasions.” OFAC considered numerous mitigating factors, including the company/subsidiaries’ voluntarily self-disclosure of the apparent violations and remedial efforts taken to avoid similar violations from occurring in the future.
The same day OFAC announced a second settlement, this time for $213,866, which resolves potential civil liability for 13 alleged CACR violations. The settlement also resolves three alleged violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR) by the company’s U.S.-based parent company. According to OFAC, the company issued sanctions compliance guidance to all of its subsidiaries with instructions that transactions with Cuba and Iran (including indirect third parties) were prohibited. However, certain subsidiaries disregarded the guidance and allegedly engaged in transactions within Cuban and Iranian territorial waters. In reaching the settlement amount, OFAC determined, among other things, that (i) the company voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations; (ii) the alleged violations constitute a non-egregious case; (iii) the subsidiaries have confirmed the conduct has been terminated; and (iv) remedial efforts have been undertaken to minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Getting your company ready: Managing fair lending for IMBs” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Independent Mortgage Bankers Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Be Your Compliance Best in 2022” at the California Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Lauren R. Randell to discuss “Significant legal developments in the Northeast” at the 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Small business & regulation: How fair lending has evolved & where it is heading?” at the Consumer Bankers Association Live program
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “Regulators always ring twice: Responding to a government request” at ALM Legalweek
- Jonice Gray Tucker and Kari Hall to discuss “Equity, equality, regulation and enforcement – The evolving regulatory landscape of fair lending, redlining, and UDAAP” at the ABA Business Law Committee Hybrid Spring Meeting