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On May 23, the U.S. Departments of Treasury, State, Commerce, and Labor issued an advisory, Risks and Considerations for U.S. Businesses Operating in Sudan, highlighting growing risks to American businesses and individuals associated with conducting business with Sudanese State-Owned Enterprises. According to the advisory, the risks outlined come from recent actions undertaken by Sudan’s Sovereign Council and security forces under the military’s control and could adversely impact U.S. businesses, individuals, other persons, and their operations in the country and the region. The advisory also noted that the U.S. recently imposed sanctions on the Central Reserve Police (CRP) for serious human rights abuse under Executive Order 13818. As previously covered by InfoBytes, OFAC noted that, the “CRP has used excessive force against pro-democracy protesters peacefully demonstrating against the military-led overthrow of the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned person subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC also noted that its regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons.
On March 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13818 against the Republic of the Sudan Central Reserve Police (CRP) for serious human rights abuse. According to OFAC, the “CRP has used excessive force against pro-democracy protesters peacefully demonstrating against the military-led overthrow of the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned person subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC also noted that its regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons.
On November 9, NYDFS announced that a United Arab Emirates bank will pay a $100 million penalty to resolve an investigation into payments it allegedly processed through financial institutions in the state, including one of the bank’s New York branches. These transactions, NYDFS stated, were in violation of Sudan-related U.S. sanctions. According to NYDFS’ investigation, the bank instructed employees to avoid including certain details in messages sent between banks that would have linked the transactions to Sudan. By concealing these details, the transactions bypassed other banks’ sanctions filters, which otherwise might have triggered alerts or transaction freezes, NYDFS said. As a result, between 2005 and 2009, the bank illegally processed more than $4 billion of payments tied to Sudan. Following an announcement in 2009 that a Swiss bank used by the bank to process these transactions was being investigated by the New York County District Attorney’s Office for violating economic sanctions rules, the bank closed all U.S. dollar accounts held by Sudanese banks, but failed to disclose the prohibited transactions to NYDFS as required until 2015. NYDFS asserted that “despite having ample notice of the prohibited nature of the Sudan-related [transactions] by 2009,” the bank’s New York branch processed an additional $2.5 million in Sudan-related payments. Under the terms of the consent order, the bank—which was previously cited by NYDFS for anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance deficiencies in a 2018 consent order that included a $40 million fine—is also required to provide a status report on its U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) compliance program, in addition to paying the $100 million penalty. NYDFS acknowledged the bank’s substantial cooperation and ongoing remedial efforts.
NYDFS coordinated its investigation with the Federal Reserve Board and OFAC, both of which announced separate settlements with the UAE bank the same day. The Fed’s announcement of its order to cease and desist cites the bank for having insufficient policies and procedures in place to ensure that activities involving branches outside the U.S. were in compliance with U.S. sanctions laws. Under the terms of the order, the bank is required, among other things, to implement an enhanced compliance program to ensure global compliance with U.S. sanctions, and must also conduct annual reviews, including a “risk-focused sampling” of its U.S. dollar payments, led by an independent external party. The order did not include any additional monetary penalties for the bank.
OFAC also issued a finding of violation (FOV) for violations of the now-repealed Sudanese Sanctions Regulations related to the bank’s actions. These violations included 1,760 transactions that involved USD transfers from Sudanese banks that were processed by the bank’s London branch and routed through U.S. banks. In determining that the appropriate administrative action was an FOV rather than a civil monetary penalty, OFAC stated the bank “voluntarily entered into a retroactive statute of limitations waiver agreement, without which OFAC would have been time-barred from charging the violations.” Because the payment messages did not include the originating Sudanese bank, U.S. correspondent banking partners “could not interdict the payments, and the payments were successfully processed through the U.S. financial system,” OFAC stated. However, OFAC credited the bank with providing substantial cooperation during the investigation, and noted that the bank had taken “extensive remediation” efforts before the investigation began in 2015, and has spent more than $122 million on compliance enhancements.
On September 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $1.4 million settlement with a Texas-based supplier of goods and services for the oil and gas industries (a subsidiary of a Netherlands corporation) for allegedly approving contracts that allowed a foreign subsidiary to supply goods to a Russian energy firm blocked under Directive 4 of Executive Order (E.O.) 13662, “Blocking Property of Additional Persons Contributing to the Situation in Ukraine,” as implemented by the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, between July 2015 and November 2016, U.S.-senior managers at the company approved five contracts for its foreign subsidiary to supply oil and exploration goods to the blocked energy firm, thus constituting a “prohibited provision of services involving a person determined to be subject to Directive 4 ([the blocked energy firm]), its property, or its interests in property.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that (i) U.S. senior managers knew that their approvals were for contracts to supply goods to a blocked entity; (ii) the company “acted directly contrary to U.S. foreign policy objectives by approving the sale of oil production or exploration equipment to an entity subject to the restrictions of Directive 4”; and (iii) the company should have recognized the risk involved when the contracts were approved.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the company took meaningful corrective actions upon discovering the alleged violations to ensure sanctions compliance, and cooperated with OFAC’s investigation and entered into tolling agreements.
OFAC separately reached a $160,000 settlement with a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the same Netherlands corporation for its apparent violation of OFAC’s now-repealed Sudanese Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, three of the subsidiary’s U.S. employees allegedly facilitated the sale and shipment of oilfield equipment intended for delivery to Sudan, which was, at the time of the transaction, an apparent violation.
On August 26, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $2.3 million settlement with a UK subsidiary of a Chinese financial institution for allegedly processing transactions in violation of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, “which prohibited the exportation, directly or indirectly, to Sudan of any goods, technology, or services from the United States.” According to OFAC’s web notice, between September 2014 and February 2016, the bank processed 111 commercial transactions totaling more than $40 million through U.S. correspondent banks on behalf of parties in Sudan. In conducting a lookback review to identify potential Sudan-related transactions, the bank identified two customers who processed transactions through the U.S. financial system. For both of these customers, the bank’s internal customer database did not reference Sudan in the name or address fields, and messages processed on behalf of these customers by the bank through U.S. banks also failed to include any references to Sudan.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that (i) the bank demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions regulations by processing the transactions “despite having account and transactional information indicating the Sudanese connection to the accounts and in contravention of the bank’s existing policies and procedures”; (ii) certain bank personnel responsible for processing the transactions knew that the payments were related to entities in Sudan; (iii) the bank conferred economic benefit to a comprehensively sanctioned country; and (iv) the bank “is a commercially sophisticated financial institution that processes transactions internationally.”
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the bank (i) has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; (ii) self-identified the alleged violations, cooperated with OFAC’s investigation, conducted a lookback, and entered into a tolling agreement; and (iii) has undertaken remedial measures, including enhancing policies and procedures to improve compliance with U.S. sanctions when processing payments through the U.S.
On July 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.4 million settlement with a New York-based online money transmitter for 2,260 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, between February 4, 2013 and February 20, 2018, the company allegedly processed 2,241 payments for parties located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions, including the Crimea region of Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as well as 19 payments on behalf of sanctioned persons identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Identified deficiencies in the company’s sanctions compliance program related to screening, testing, auditing, and transaction review procedures allowed persons in these jurisdictions and regions and those on the SDN List to engage in roughly $802,117.36 worth of transactions, OFAC stated. The apparent violations—related to commercial transactions that the company processed on behalf of its corporate customers and card-issuing financial institutions—allegedly occurred as a result of weak algorithms, business identifier code screening failures, backlogs, and a failure to monitor IP addresses or flag addresses in sanctioned locations.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the company failed to exercise sufficient caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations; (ii) the company had reason to know users were located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions based on common indications it had within its possession; and (iii) the apparent violations harmed six different sanctions program.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) senior management quickly self-disclosed the apparent violations upon discovery and provided substantial cooperation during the investigation; (ii) the company has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; and (iii) the company has taken remedial measures to minimize the risk of recurrence, including terminating the conduct leading to the apparent violations, retraining compliance employees, enhancing screening software, putting flagged transactions into a pending status rather than completing them, and conducting a daily review of customers’ and counter-parties’ identification documents.
On June 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against members of a smuggling organization that allegedly contributes to funding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) and the Houthis in Yemen. According to OFAC, the group is led by an Iran-based Houthi financier and generates millions of dollars from selling commodities, such as Iranian petroleum, of which a significant amount is directed through an intricate network of intermediaries in several countries to the Houthis in Yemen. OFAC Director Andrea M. Gacki noted that financial support from the network “enables the Houthis’ deplorable attacks threatening civilian and critical infrastructure in Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” and that the attacks “undermine efforts to bring the conflict to an end and, most tragically, starve tens of millions of innocent civilians.” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individuals, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more” by the individuals that are subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s announcement further noted that OFAC regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with designated persons and foreign financial institutions that knowingly participate in significant transactions related to the designated individuals risk sanctions that could discontinue their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property or interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.
In addition, OFAC announced the removal of sanctions on three former Government of Iran officials, and two companies who were previously connected to the handlings of Iranian petrochemical products. According to OFAC, “these delistings are a result of a verified change in behavior or status on the part of the sanctioned parties and demonstrate the U.S. government’s commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in behavior or status for sanctioned persons.”
On May 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a final rule to amend the Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulations to implement changes resulting from the Secretary of State’s December 14, 2020 rescission of the designation of Sudan as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The amendments relate to “removing one general license in full and amending another general license to remove references to the Government of Sudan and Sudanese nationals because financial transactions with the Government of Sudan are no longer prohibited by the Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulations.” The rule went into effect on May 20 immediately upon publication in the Federal Register.
On April 12, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published amended frequently asked questions related to the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) and the Sudan Program and Darfur Sanctions. FAQs 97 and 98 clarify TSRA licensing application options and steps, which require that applicants provide all relevant information for parties, including financial institutions and purchasing agents, that may be involved in the proposed transactions. FAQ 500 explains that persons are no longer required to obtain specific licenses from OFAC to export or reexport agricultural commodities, medicines, or medical devices to Sudan. Finally, FAQ 836 states that U.S. persons are no longer prohibited from engaging in transactions with respect to Sudan or the Government of Sudan that were previously prohibited by the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 538.
On December 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $653,347 settlement with a Saudi Arabian bank to resolve 13 apparent violations of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations, or section 2(b) of Executive Order (E.O.) 13582, which prohibits certain transactions with respect to Syria. According to OFAC’s web notice, between 2011 and 2014, the bank processed—directly or indirectly—13 U.S. dollar (USD) transactions totaling more than $5.9 million “to or through the United States in circumstances where a benefit of [the bank’s] service was received by Sudanese or Syrian counterparties, or that involved goods originating in or transiting through Sudan or Syria.” OFAC noted that the apparent violations began after the bank had implemented more robust compliance measures, “including those relating to sanctions screening and OFAC sanctions compliance.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that the bank “conferred substantial economic benefit to U.S.-sanctioned parties,” causing “significant harm to the integrity of U.S. sanctions programs and their associated policy objectives.”
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the bank (i) did not willfully intend to violate U.S. sanctions law or recklessly disregard its sanctions obligations; (ii) cooperated with the investigation and signed a tolling agreement; and (iii) has undertaken remedial measures and has enhanced its compliance controls and internal policies, including by requiring the screening of all payments against international sanctions lists and prohibiting the opening of USD accounts for any Sudanese customers or financial institutions.
- Jedd R. Bellman to discuss “The CFPB’s crackdown on collection junk fees and the growing anti-CFPB rhetoric” at an Accounts Recovery webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Latest on AML regulations and impact of economic sanctions” at a Mortgage Bankers Association webinar
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Fundamentals of financial crime compliance” at the Practicing Law Institute
- Benjamin W. Hutten to discuss “Ongoing CDD: Operational considerations” at NAFCU’s Regulatory Compliance & BSA Seminar