Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On August 9, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it was imposing sanctions on eight Venezuelan individuals for their role in supporting the “Constituent Assembly,” which was instituted under President Nicolas Maduro in order to allegedly undermine the democratic process by “rewrit[ing] the Venezuelan constitution and dissolv[ing] Venezuelan state institutions.” Seven of the individuals sanctioned are current or former officials of the Venezuelan government, and one was an active participant in identified “anti-democratic” actions. All assets belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen, and U.S. persons are prohibited from having any dealings with them. As previously reported in InfoBytes, sanctions were imposed on President Maduro on July 31.
During the week of July 24, 2017, three different companies announced the closure of DOJ and/or SEC FCPA investigations.
In a Form 10-Q filed with the SEC on July 25, 2017, an American multinational technology company disclosed that the DOJ and SEC had each informed the company in June 2017 of the closure of their respective investigations into “alleged illegal activity by a former Poland employee in connection with sales to the Polish government.” The company initially informed the SEC in 2012 that the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau was looking into the matter, and the DOJ followed up with its own investigation in April of 2013. The DOJ expanded the investigation from Poland to Argentina, Bangladesh, and Ukraine. The 2012 issues came on the heels of a 2011 settlement in which the company paid the SEC $10 million to settle separate FCPA allegations for alleged cash payments to Chinese and Korean officials.
A South African alternative payment systems provider made a similar announcement on July 27, stating that the DOJ had written a letter to the company closing its investigation of alleged FCPA and disclosure violations. According to the announcement, the DOJ, along with the SEC and South African authorities, began looking into a 2012 contract award process involving a subsidiary of the company after an unsuccessful bidder for the same contract “refer[ed] unsubstantiated South African press articles to the DOJ.” The SEC was the first to bow out of the investigation, closing its inquiry through a letter in 2015, followed six months later by the South African government. The company is traded on NASDAQ’s Global Select Market, providing a jurisdictional hook into a case otherwise about payments made by a South African company in South Africa to South African citizens who were South African government employees. Our additional coverage of this matter can be viewed here.
In a Form 10-Q filed on July 25, 2017, a mining company also announced the end of a DOJ investigation into alleged violations of the FCPA “relating to certain business activities of [the company] and its affiliates and contractors in countries outside the U.S.” According to the announcement, the Colorado company had already received a similar declination from the SEC earlier this year. Our additional coverage of this matter can be viewed here.
The DOJ simultaneously reportedly confirmed to the Wall Street Journal that the agency was still actively enforcing the FCPA. The Journal cited an anonymous source at the DOJ for assurances that “though there haven’t been any new corporate FCPA cases since mid-January, there is no letup in U.S. enforcement efforts.”
On July 27, 2017, a federal jury in the Southern District of New York convicted a Macau real estate developer of bribery, money laundering, and conspiracy, for his role in a widespread plan to bribe United Nations officials in order to establish a new conference facility in Macau. Five other defendants have also been charged; four have pleaded guilty, and one passed away. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
As pointed out on the FCPA Professor, this is a significant win for the DOJ because it marks the first time since 2011 that the DOJ has successfully taken an FCPA case to verdict. Our additional coverage of this matter can be viewed here.
On August 2, President Trump signed into law a bipartisan bill placing new sanctions on Iran, Russia, and North Korea. The House passed the sanctions by a vote of 419-3, while the Senate cleared it 98-2. The Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (H.R. 3364) is comprised of three bills:
- Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act. The sanctions modify and increase President Trump’s authority to impose sanctions on persons in violation of certain United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding North Korea. Specifically, U.S. financial institutions shall not “knowingly, directly or indirectly,” facilitate or maintain correspondent accounts with North Korean or other foreign financial institutions that provide services to North Korea, or execute a transfer of funds or property “that materially contributes to any violation of an applicable United National Security Council resolution.” A foreign government that provides to or receives from North Korea a defense article or service is prohibited from receiving certain types of U.S. foreign assistance. The sanctions concern: (i) shipping and cargo restrictions; (ii) cooperation between North Korea and Iran pertaining to the countries’ weapon programs; (iii) forced labor and trafficking victims, including goods produced by forced labor; and (iv) foreign persons that employ North Korean forced laborers. Furthermore, the Secretary of State is directed to submit a determination regarding whether North Korea meets the criteria for designation as a state sponsor of terrorism no later than 90 days after the Act has been enacted.
- Countering Iran's Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017. The sanctions—intended to deter Iranian activities and threats affecting the U.S. and key allies—include: (i) assessments of Iran’s conventional force capabilities such as its ballistic missile or weapons of mass destruction programs; (ii) prohibitions on the sale or transfer of military equipment and sanctions against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and any affiliated foreign persons; (iii) programs to be undertaken by the U.S. and other foreign governments to counter destabilizing activities; and (iv) prohibitions on any activity that provides “financial, material, technological, or other support for goods or services in support” of the identified programs or persons. The sanctions also block any property or interests in property of any designated person “if such property and interests in property are in the [U.S.], come within the [U.S.], or are or come within the possession or control of a [U.S.] person.” The law allows President Trump to impose sanctions against persons committing human rights violations against Iranian citizens, and also grants him the ability to “temporarily waive the imposition or continuation of sanctions under specified circumstances.”
- Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act of 2017. Under the new sanctions, notwithstanding sanctions passed under President Obama’s administration, Congress will review President Trump’s proposed actions to terminate or waive sanctions with respect to Russia and determine whether the actions will or will not “significantly alter [U.S.] foreign policy with regard to the Russian federation.” Additionally, the President may, at his discretion, waive specified cyber- and Ukraine-related sanctions if submitted to the appropriate congressional committees and “is in the vital national security interests of the [U.S.].” The sanctions concern the following: (i) cybersecurity; (ii) crude oil projects; (iii) Russian and foreign financial institutions; (iv) corruption; (v) human rights abuses; (vi) evasion of sanctions; (vii) transactions with Russian intelligence or defense sectors; (viii) pipeline developments; (ix) privatization of state-owned assets by the Russian federation; and (v) arms and related material transfers to Syria. The sanctions further detail financial transaction loan and credit restrictions between U.S. and international financial institutions and sanctioned persons—including directives related to financing new debt—and place prohibitions on sanctioned financial institutions. Among other things, the sanctions direct the development of a national strategy for combating the financing of terrorism and other types of illicit financing.
SEC Reaches Settlement with Broker-Dealer Over Alleged Sale of Unregistered Stocks and Failure to File SARs
On July 28, the SEC announced it had reached a settlement in an administrative proceeding against a broker-dealer firm for allegedly selling hundreds of millions of unregistered penny stock shares and failing to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) for over $24.8 million in suspicious transactions with the Financial Crime Enforcement Network. Bank Secrecy Act regulations require a broker-dealer to file SARs if it “knows, suspects, or has reason to suspect that the transaction . . . involves funds derived from illegal activity or is intended . . . to hide or disguise funds” to evade anti-money laundering (AML) rules. A broker-deal must also file SARs if there is no apparent lawful purpose for the transaction or if the transaction is to facilitate criminal activity. According to the settlement, the firm’s actions violated the Securities Act and Exchange Act. In addition to being censured and agreeing pay a $200,000 penalty, the firm will no longer accept the deposit of stocks valued under $5.00 and will retain an independent consultant to assist with mandatory enhancements to the firm’s AML policies and procedures.
On July 31, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it was imposing sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, pursuant to Executive Order 13692, for undermining the country’s democracy and rule of law after recent elections and committing widespread human rights abuses. The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with President Maduro and freezes all assets belonging to him subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin explained that the July 30 “illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people. By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime and our support for the people of Venezuela who seek to return their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
The July 31 sanctions follow an announcement on July 26 in which OFAC announced it was imposing sanctions against 13 current or former Venezuelan government officials associated with election corruption and human rights violations. As a result, all assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with any of the individuals on the list.
International oil field service company agrees to settle FCPA claim for $29 million in disgorgement and penalties
An international oil field service company recently settled allegations that the company improperly steered business to the friend of an Angolan official in exchange for that official awarding various oil contracts to the company. In total, the company agreed to pay the SEC $29.2 million, comprising $14 million in disgorgement, $1.2 million in prejudgment interest, and a $14 million penalty. The company’s former vice president also agreed to pay the SEC a $75,000 penalty related to these violations and other accounting irregularities.
This is the most recent settlement in a series of FCPA enforcement actions focusing on the company’s procurement processes and operations in various countries. A former subsidiary of the company settled similar FCPA allegations in 2009 related to alleged bribes paid to Nigerian officials to procure contracts in that country.
This settlement also highlights the role of whistleblowers in driving FCPA and other enforcement actions. A whistleblower employed by the company first alerted the company to potential FCPA issues in 2010, which resulted in the launching of an investigation into the allegations.
OFAC Fines International Technology Subsidiary More Than $12 Million for Violating Iranian Sanctions
On July 27, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it had reached a settlement with a subsidiary of a Singapore-based international technology group for alleged violations of OFAC sanctions against Iran. OFAC claimed that between August 25, 2010 and November 5, 2011, the subsidiary entered into contracts with multiple Iranian companies, engaged several third-party vendors to provide goods and services for the contracts, and caused “at least six separate financial institutions to engage in the unauthorized exportation or re-exportation of financial services from the [U.S.] to Iran.” Furthermore, the subsidiary made a statement to a non-U.S. financial institution in Singapore (the Bank) stating, “In consideration of [the Bank] agreeing to continue providing banking services in Singapore to our company, we . . . hereby undertake not to route any transactions related to Iran through [the Bank], whether in Singapore or elsewhere.” However, the subsidiary began originating USD funds transfers through the Bank related to Iranian business transactions. Moreover, its actions provided “significant economic benefit” to Iran and individuals on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Specifically, OFAC maintained the subsidiary violated the following sanctions programs: (i) the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and (ii) the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 560.
The settlement requires the company to pay more than $12 million to settle the claims, which the company did not voluntarily self-disclose to OFAC.
FinCEN, California U.S. Attorney Assess Civil Money Penalties Against Virtual Currency Transmitter and Operator for AML Violations
On July 27, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, assessed a more than $110 million civil money penalty against an internet-based, foreign-located virtual currency transmitter for willfully violating the anti-money laundering (AML) provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act. A second, separate $12 million penalty was assessed against one of the company’s operators, a Russian national. Additionally, a California grand jury handed down a 21-count indictment against the currency transmitter and the Russian national. According to allegations, the company exchanged fiat currency in addition to virtual currencies such as bitcoin, and “facilitated transactions involving ransomware, computer hacking, identity theft, tax refund fraud schemes, public corruption, and drug trafficking.” The company also processed transactions using stolen funds.
Pursuant to the terms of the assessment, from November 2011 through the present, both the company and the operator allegedly failed to (i) meet money services business (MSB) registration requirements; (ii) implement an effective AML program; (iii) detect suspicious transactions or file suspicious activity reports; and (iv) obtain and retain records for transmitted funds of $3,000 or more. FinCEN warned that regardless of ownership or location, foreign-located MSBs are “required to comply with U.S. AML laws and regulations . . . including AML program, MSB registration, suspicious activity reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.”
This is the first action FinCEN has taken against a foreign-located MSB conducting business in the U.S.
In a recent speech before the Atlantic Council Inter-American Dialogue Event, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco discussed the importance of foreign law enforcement cooperation in FCPA investigations. Blanco focused his remarks on cooperation between the United States and Brazil and also touched on the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative.
Blanco noted: “As transnational crime continues to grow in scope and complexity, we increasingly find ourselves looking across the globe to collect evidence and identify witnesses necessary to build cases, requiring greater and closer collaboration with our foreign counterparts. As a result, we find ourselves relying more and more on the use of the various mechanisms of international cooperation with our foreign partners that permit for evidence exchange, fugitive apprehension, and asset recovery.”
Blanco’s remarks highlight the DOJ’s continued focus on international and transnational conduct with the cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies. He concluded: “We at the Department of Justice will continue, like we have for years, pushing forward hard against corruption, wherever it is, and we welcome our fellow counterparts around the world who are fighting this important fight against corruption.”
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Wait wait ... do tell me! Where the panelists answer to you" at the ACAMS AML & Anti-Financial Crime Conference
- Matthew P. Previn and Walter E. Zalenski to discuss "Is valid when made ... valid?" at the Women in Housing & Finance Partner Series webinar
- Warren W. Traiger and Caroline K. Eisner to discuss "CRA modernization and the OCC final rule" at CBA Live
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Transnational corruption: A chat with former U.S. federal prosecutors in New York" at Marval Live Talks
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk and Lauren Frank to discuss "New CFPB interpretation on UDAAP" at a California Mortgage Bankers Association Mortgage Quality and Compliance Committee webinar
- Daniel R. Alonso to moderate "Regional anti-corruption enforcement colloquium" at the Latin Lawyer GIR Interactive Anti-Corruption & Investigations
- APROVED Webcast: 20 for the ’20s: What the coming decade holds for MLO licensing
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "NMLS mortgage call report – Where’s NMLS 2.0?" at the QuestSoft Lending Compliance Conference
- Thomas A. Sporkin to discuss "Managing internal investigations and advanced government defense" at the Securities Enforcement Forum
- H Joshua Kotin to discuss "Mortgage servicing in a recession: Early intervention, loss mitigation and more" at the NAFCU Virtual Regulatory Compliance Seminar
- Daniel R. Alonso to discuss "Independent monitoring in the United States" at the World Compliance Association Peru Chapter IV International Conference on Compliance and the Fight Against Corruption
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "The future of fair lending" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Kathryn L. Ryan to discuss "Pandemic fallout – Navigating practical operational challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute