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  • OFAC settles Iranian sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $824,314 settlement with a Pennsylvania-based cookware coating manufacturer for 74 apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, between November 2012 and December 2015, two of the company’s foreign subsidiaries allegedly sold coatings intended for customers in Iran and engaged in trade-related transactions with Iran, despite changes to OFAC’s Iran sanctions program, which prohibited such transactions. In addition, OFAC stated that in 2013, once the company realized that these sales may be problematic, some of its U.S. employees devised and facilitated a plan to continue sales from the two subsidiaries by using third-party distributers and avoiding referencing Iran on documentation.

    In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including that the apparent violations were non-egregious and (i) the company voluntarily disclosed the violations and cooperated with the investigation; and (ii) the company has undertaken significant remedial efforts to address the deficiencies and minimize the risk of similar violations from occurring in the future, including appointing compliance monitors and outside counsel, making changes to its leadership, and adopting compliance and training policies.

    OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that the company (i) failed to implement appropriate compliance policies “commensurate with selling to a high-risk jurisdiction such as Iran”; (ii) took “affirmative steps” to help the foreign subsidiaries continue to sell to Iran through indirect channels even though it knew the sales were problematic; and (iii) senior management, including U.S. employees, had actual knowledge of the conduct leading to the alleged violations and continued to facilitate transactions with Iran.

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

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  • OFAC sanctions ISIS financial facilitators

    Financial Crimes

    On July 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against two Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) financial facilitators based in Syria and Turkey for allegedly providing financial and logistical support to ISIS. OFAC noted that these sanctions coincide with the thirteenth meeting of the Counter ISIS Finance Group, which coordinates efforts to isolate ISIS from the international financial system and eliminate revenue sources. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated individuals within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC further 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 facilitated significant transactions for any of the designated individuals, they may be subject to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through account sanctions.

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

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  • OFAC sanctions investors supporting Syrian government

    Financial Crimes

    On July 29, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against one individual and nine entities for providing significant investment support to the Syrian government. OFAC noted that, among other things, the designated individual and his companies knowingly provided “significant financial, material, or technological support to, or knowingly engag[ed] in a significant transaction with, the Government of Syria (including any entity owned or controlled by the Government of Syria) or a senior political figure of the Government of Syria.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons and subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC further noted that its regulations “generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated persons,” and warned that non-U.S. persons that engage in transactions with the designated persons may expose themselves to designation. OFAC also referenced a previously published Fact Sheet (covered by InfoBytes here), which highlights the most pertinent exemptions, exceptions, and authorizations for humanitarian assistance and trade under the Syria, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, and Ukraine/Russia-related​ sanctions programs to ensure humanitarian-related trade and assistance reaches at-risk populations through legitimate and transparent channels during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

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

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  • FinCEN warns of Covid-19 cybercriminal activity

    Federal Issues

    On July 30, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions to assist in the “detecting, preventing, and reporting” of potential Covid-19 cybercriminal activity. The advisory highlights specific ways cybercriminals are exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic through “malware and phishing schemes, extortion, business email compromise (BEC) fraud, and exploitation of remote applications.” Among other things, the advisory warns that with increased remote access, cybercriminals seek to undermine weak authentication processes to gain unauthorized access to accounts. Moreover, FinCEN and law enforcement have observed increased phishing scams that use Covid-19 themes, such as payments related to the CARES Act, in the subject and body of emails to lure their victims. Regarding ransomware, the advisory notes that “[i]n almost all cases, criminals require ransomware-related extortion payments to be made in [convertible virtual currency].” Lastly, the advisory notes that due to changing business operations, cybercriminals are using BEC schemes to intercept or fraudulently induce payments in the healthcare industry supply chain. The advisory includes a specific list of red flag indicators for financial institutions to be aware of in each category.

    Federal Issues FinCEN Financial Crimes Covid-19

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  • FINRA fines firm for failing to follow its own AML policies

    Financial Crimes

    On July 27, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) entered into a Letter of Acceptance, Waiver and Consent (AWC), fining a California-based securities firm $50,000 for allegedly failing to implement and follow its own anti-money laundering (AML) compliance procedures. As a result, the firm allegedly failed to detect red flags concerning potentially suspicious activity and failed to investigate or report the activity in a timely manner. According to FINRA, a sales practice examination detected instances between November 2012 and December 2016 in which the firm failed to detect red flags in four related accounts, including suspicious activity related to: (i) the “ownership of multiple accounts without an apparent business purpose for multiple accounts”; (ii) an account owner with a “significant disciplinary history related to securities fraud”; (iii) possible manipulative trading activity; (iv) unusual, unexpected transfer activity between related accounts without an apparent business purpose; and (v) unexplained third-party wire transfers, inconsistent with expected account activity. FINRA stated that although the “firm’s AML procedures indicated that when the firm detected any red flags of potentially suspicious activity, it would determine whether and how to investigate further,” the firm failed to implement these measures. The firm neither admitted nor denied the findings set forth in the AWC agreement but agreed to pay the fine and address identified deficiencies in its programs to ensure compliance with its AML obligations.

    Financial Crimes FINRA Anti-Money Laundering Compliance

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  • DOJ sues companies for laundering funds for North Korean banks

    Financial Crimes

    On July 23, the DOJ announced it filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that four companies engaged in a scheme to launder U.S. dollars on behalf of sanctioned North Korean banks and seeking forfeiture of $2,372,793. The DOJ claims that the North Korean banks illegally accessed the U.S. financial market and used the companies to make and receive U.S. dollar payments to and from North Korean front companies. According to the DOJ, the complaint “illuminates how a global money laundering network coordinates with front companies to move North Korean money through the [U.S.] and violate the sanctions imposed by [the] government on North Korea.” The DOJ further refers to a United Nations Panel of Experts statement that North Korean networks access formal banking channels by, among other things, maintaining correspondent bank accounts and representative offices abroad staffed by foreign nationals that make use of front companies, which permit North Korean banks “to conduct illicit procurement and banking activity.”

    Financial Crimes Courts DOJ Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • OFAC sanctions individuals for supporting Maduro regime

    Financial Crimes

    On July 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions against two individuals for allegedly assisting, sponsoring, or providing “financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” either the previously designated son of Nicolás Maduro Moros, or to Venezuelan government senior officials. The individuals, sanctioned pursuant to Executive Order 13692, are allegedly central figures in Venezuela’s gold industry and “oversee the financial mechanism of [an] illicit gold scheme.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated individuals, are also blocked.” U.S. persons are generally prohibited from dealing with any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

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

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  • OFAC issues amended Ukraine-/Russia-related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On July 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published nine amended Ukraine-/Russia-related Frequently Asked Questions in response to the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13O and 15I. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the newly issued GLs extend the expiration date to January 22, 2021 for the authorization of certain transactions necessary to divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings, or wind down operations or existing contracts with a Russian manufacturer previously sanctioned by OFAC in April 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here). Among other things, the FAQs discuss specific permitted activities, transactions, and uses of blocked funds. The FAQs also state that foreign persons will not be subject to sanctions for engaging in activity with the Russian manufacturer or any entities in which the manufacturer owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest, provided the activity is authorized by GL 15I and occurs within the authorized time period.

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

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  • OFAC sanctions persons connected to Nicaragua President Ortega; amends Nicaragua sanctions regulations and Ukraine-related general licenses

    Financial Crimes

    On July 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13851 against one of Nicaraguan President Ortega’s sons, as well as a second individual and two companies used to allegedly “distribute regime propaganda and launder money.” According to OFAC, the second sanctioned individual created shell companies to launder money from businesses that he operated on behalf of another one of the president’s sons previously designated by OFAC. OFAC also cited to the individual’s alleged involvement on behalf of a chain of sanctioned gas stations controlled by the Ortega family, designating the individual “for being responsible for or complicit in, or for having directly or indirectly engaged or attempted to engage in, a transaction or series of transactions involving deceptive practices or corruption by, on behalf of, or otherwise related to the [Government of Nicaragua (GoN)] or a current or former official of the GoN.” 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 such persons 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 persons. 

    Separately, on July 16, OFAC announced amendments (effective July 17) to the Nicaragua Sanctions Regulations, which incorporate the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018, and, among other things, update the authority citation as well as the prohibited transactions and delegation sections. A general license previously posted on OFAC’s website authorizing certain U.S. government activities related to Nicaragua also has been incorporated. The final rule is effective July 17.

    The announcement also extends the expiration date of two Ukraine-related general licenses (GLs). Both GL 13O, which supersedes GL 13N, and GL 15I, which supersedes GL 15H, now expire January 22, 2021, and authorize certain transactions necessary to divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings, or wind down operations or existing contracts with a Russian manufacturer previously sanctioned by OFAC in April 2018 (covered by InfoBytes here).

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Sanctions DOJ Nicaragua Ukraine Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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  • UAE manufacturer settles OFAC, DOJ charges for apparent North Korean sanctions violations

    Financial Crimes

    On July 16, a United Arab Emirates cigarette filter and tear tape manufacturer settled OFAC and DOJ charges for apparent violations of the North Korea Sanctions Regulations (NKSR) 31 C.F.R. part 510 and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). According to OFAC’s release, the company allegedly violated the NKSR by (i) engaging in deceptive practices in order to export cigarette filters to North Korea through a network of front companies in China and other countries; and (ii) receiving three wire transfers totaling more than $330,000 in accounts at a U.S. bank’s foreign branch as payment for exporting the filters. OFAC noted that the conduct leading to the apparent violations included aggravating factors such as (i) the company’s senior manager and customer-facing employee willfully violated the NKSR by agreeing to, among other things, transact with non-North Korean front companies to conceal the North Korea connection despite a company policy that “warned that its banks would not handle transactions with sanctioned jurisdictions” including North Korea; and (ii) the senior manager and customer-facing employee were aware that the filters would be sent to North Korea. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the company substantially cooperated with OFAC’s investigation and agreed to provide ongoing cooperation. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the company is required to pay a $665,112 civil monetary penalty to OFAC, which will be deemed satisfied by payment of the fine assessed by the DOJ arising out of the same conduct.

    In the parallel criminal enforcement action, the company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, accepting responsibility for its criminal conduct and agreeing to pay a $666,543.88 fine. According to the DOJ, this is the Department’s first corporate enforcement action for violations of the IEEPA. In addition, the company agreed to, among other things, fully cooperate with any investigation, implement a compliance program designed to prevent and detect any future violations of U.S. economic sanctions regulations, provide quarterly reports to the DOJ regarding the status of compliance improvements, provide OFAC-related training, and annually certify to OFAC that it has implemented and has continued to uphold its compliance-related commitments.

    Financial Crimes OFAC DOJ Department of Treasury Sanctions North Korea Of Interest to Non-US Persons

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