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On May 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $225,937 settlement with a Puerto Rican bank for allegedly violating the Venezuela Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC’s web notice, the bank allegedly processed 337 transactions totaling $853,126 on behalf of two low level employees of the Government of Venezuela (GoV). The apparent violations allegedly resulted from the bank’s maintenance of four personal accounts operated by these two employees that should have been blocked by Executive Order (E.O.) 13884 (which blocks property and interests in property of the GoV, including “‘any person owned or controlled, directly or indirectly,’ by the GoV, and ‘any person who has acted or purported to act directly or indirectly for or on behalf of’ any such entity”). OFAC stated that the two GoV individuals also did not meet the criteria for authorized transaction exemptions under General License 34A and found that the bank failed to identify the customers for 14 months following the issuance of E.O. 13884.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including, among other things, that (i) the bank maintained documentation showing that the two individuals were low-level GoV employees but delayed identifying them; and (ii) the bank has more than $61 billion in assets. OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the bank (i) took remedial action to ensure compliance with OFAC sanctions; (ii) created more robust sanctions-related procedures; (iii) developed additional resources and guidance in connection to sanctions alert review and disposition; (iv) added staff to oversee OFAC sanctions matters; (v) reviewed policies and procedures for identifying, reviewing, and reporting transactions that violate OFAC’s regulations; and (vi) enhanced its sanctions screening trainings. The bank also voluntarily self-disclosed the apparent violations to OFAC and cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.
Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that this action “demonstrates the importance of financial institutions conducting timely due diligence…following the issuance of new sanctions prohibitions.”
On April 5, the FDIC issued FIL-15-2022 to provide regulatory relief to financial institutions and facilitate recovery in areas of Puerto Rico affected by severe storms, flooding and landslides. The FDIC acknowledged the unusual circumstances faced by institutions and their customers affected by the weather and suggested that institutions work with impacted borrowers to, among other things, (i) extend repayment terms; (ii) restructure existing loans; or (iii) ease terms for new loans, so long as these measures are done “in a manner consistent with sound banking practices.” Additionally, the FDIC noted that institutions “may receive favorable Community Reinvestment Act consideration for community development loans, investments, and services in support of disaster recovery.” The FDIC will also consider regulatory relief from certain filing and publishing requirements.