Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On September 17, President Biden signed a new Executive Order (E.O.), Imposing Sanctions on Certain Persons with Respect to the Humanitarian and Human Rights Crisis in Ethiopia, that declares a national emergency with respect to the humanitarian and human rights crisis in northern Ethiopia. The E.O. provides the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, with the authority “to impose a range of targeted sanctions on persons determined, among other things, to be responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that expand or extend the ongoing crisis or obstruct a ceasefire or peace process in northern Ethiopia or commit serious human rights abuse.” Concurrently, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued three new general licenses, GLs 1, 2, and 3, which authorize official activities associated with certain international organizations and entities, certain nongovernmental organizations’ activities, and certain transactions associated with the exporting or reexporting of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, and medical items. OFAC also published six related FAQs (see FAQs 922, 923, 924, 925, 926, and 927), which provide additional clarity concerning the non-application of OFAC’s 50 Percent Rule to property and interests in property of persons blocked pursuant to the new E.O., as well as guidance on activities authorized by the new GLs.
On September 16, FinCEN issued a notice regarding an increase in online child sexual exploitation (OCSE) and provided financial institutions with specific suspicious activity report (SAR) filing instructions, noting some financial trends related to OCSE. According to FinCEN, there was a “147 percent increase in OCSE-related SAR filings between 2017 and 2020.” The notice provides that financial institutions should, among other things: (i) “reference only this notice in SAR field 2 (Filing Institution Note to FinCEN) using the keyword ‘OCSE-FIN-2021-NTC3,’” which should also be referenced to specify a relationship between the suspicious activity being reported and the activities in this notice,” and (ii) “select SAR Field 38(z) (Other) as the associated suspicious activity type to indicate a connection between the suspicious activity reported and OCSE activity and include the term ‘OCSE’ in the text box.” FinCEN requests that reporting entities utilize the Child Sexual Exploitation terms and definitions located in the Appendix of the notice when detailing suspicious activity. FinCEN also specifies the selections to be utilized if human trafficking and human smuggling is suspected.
On September 17, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224 against members of Lebanon- and Kuwait-based financial conduits that fund Hizballah. In addition, OFAC designated members of an international network of financial facilitators and front companies connected to Hizballah and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). Together, these networks allegedly “laundered tens of millions of dollars through regional financial systems and conducted currency exchanges and trades” for the benefit of both entities. According to OFAC, Hizballah, supported by the IRGC-QF, utilized the revenues from these networks to fund terrorism, and condoned instability throughout the region. As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the designated persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and any “entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other blocked persons, that are in the United States or in control of a U.S. person must be blocked.” U.S. persons are “generally prohibited from engaging in transactions” with the designated members. OFAC further warned that the agency “can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that either knowingly conducted or facilitated any significant transaction on behalf of a Specially Designated Global Terrorist or, among other things, knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah or certain persons designated for their connection to Hizballah.”
On September 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13224, as amended, against five individuals for allegedly providing “a range of financial and travel facilitation services” for a terrorist organization in Turkey. According to OFAC, the individuals are designated “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, [the terrorist organization].” As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned persons are blocked. OFAC’s announcement further noted that OFAC regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with designated persons, adding that “[e]ngaging in certain transactions with the individuals designated today entails risk of secondary sanctions pursuant to E.O. 13224, as amended.”
On September 16, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act against a leader of a Columbia-based international drug trafficking organization. OFAC noted that the designated individual “strategically located maritime corridors in northern Colombia and collects a per kilogram tax from narcotics traffickers for protection and safe passage of multi-ton shipments of narcotics through the [organization’s] area of control.” OFAC also designated three individuals and two entities closely related to the organization’s leader for providing material support to the narcotics trafficking activities. As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property belonging to the sanctioned individual subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. U.S. persons are also generally prohibited from engaging in any dealings involving the property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.
On September 10, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Venezuela General License (GL) 5H, which supersedes GL 5G and authorizes certain transactions otherwise prohibited under Executive Orders 13835 and 13857 related to, or that provide financing for, dealings in the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. 2020 8.5 Percent Bond on or after January 22, 2022. Concurrently, OFAC amended a Venezuela-related frequently asked question regarding GL 5H.
On September 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a roughly $190,000 settlement with a Texas-based company for allegedly knowingly exporting goods, technology, and services in violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, between December 2013 and May 2018, the company exported 49 products from the U.S. to two third-country distributors with prior knowledge, or reason to know, that its products were intended specifically for a reseller in Iran. The Iranian reseller then sold three of the exported products to an entity on OFAC’s SDN List, at the time of the relevant exports. On at least three occasions, the company also allegedly provided support, software updates, reseller training, or other services in support of sales to customers located in Iran.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that the company: (i) demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions regulations by authorizing distribution and support of its goods; (ii) possessed knowledge of the conduct; and (iii) “caused harm to U.S. sanctions objectives by facilitating access to the bank’s products and support services by resellers and users in Iran.”
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including, among other things, that the: (i) “volume and total amount of payments underlying the Apparent Violations was not significant compared to [the company’s] overall revenue”; (ii) the company demonstrated remedial actions, including establishing export controls and sanctions compliance policies and procedures; and (iii) the company cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.
On September 3, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13553 against four Iranian intelligence operatives who allegedly targeted a U.S. citizen and Iranian dissidents in a wide-ranging campaign to silence critics of the Iranian government. According to OFAC, a senior official led a network that plotted to kidnap a U.S. journalist, which failed and led to the indictment of members of the network. OFAC also noted that this network has played a key role in the Iranian government’s brutal human rights abuses against Iranians. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these persons that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and 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 blocked or designated persons,” and warned foreign financial institutions that knowingly facilitating significant transactions or providing significant financial services to the designated individuals may subject them to U.S. correspondent account or payable-through sanctions.
On August 31, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced it will host a special Innovations Hours Program on October 14, “focusing on the important role of digital identity to enhance financial services inclusion while supporting efforts to counter illicit activity that undermine the integrity and opportunity of the US financial system.” Fintech and regulatory technology (regtech) companies, venture capital firms, financial institutions, and others interested in providing a demonstration should highlight how their digital identity solutions work and how these solutions “would be used in practice as well as how they may support private- and public-sector efforts to enhance financial integrity and financial inclusion, while protecting personal privacy.” Interested companies should submit requests here no later than September 24. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Innovation Hours Program was announced in 2019 to provide opportunities for fintech/regtech companies and financial institutions to showcase new and emerging approaches to combating money laundering and terrorist financing and to demonstrate how financial institutions could use such technologies.
On August 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets (OFAC) issued a technical notice for website and sanctions list data file users. The notice provides users information on measures for ensuring application configurations are updated pending the release of a replacement public certification that will be distributed worldwide and will take effect September 1.