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On March 26, the DOJ announced criminal charges against numerous current and former Venezuelan government officials, including “Former President” Nicolás Maduro Moros and two Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) leaders. The charges include allegedly engaging in drug trafficking, laundering drug proceeds using Florida real estate and luxury goods, corruption, and bribery. According to an unsealed four-count superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of New York, Maduro, along with five other high-ranking officials, participated in a “narco-terrorism conspiracy,” conspired to import large-scale cocaine shipments into the U.S., and used—or conspired to use—“machine guns and destructive devices” to further the narco-terrorism conspiracies. The charges also allege that Maduro and the officials negotiated and facilitated FARC-produced cocaine shipments, coordinated “foreign affairs with Honduras and other countries to facilitate large-scale drug trafficking,” and solicited assistance from FARC leadership with respect to militia training.
A separate indictment unsealed in the District of Columbia charges the current Venezuelan Minister of Defense with conspiracy to distribute cocaine on a U.S.-registered aircraft. That individual was previously sanctioned in 2018 by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
A criminal complaint was also filed in the Southern District of Florida charging the current Chief Justice of the Venezuelan Supreme Court with accepting “tens of millions of dollars and bribes to illegally fix dozens of civil and criminal cases,” including a case in which the defendant authorized the dismissal of charges brought against a Venezuelan who was “charged in a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme against the Venezuelan state-owned oil company.” According to the complaint, the defendant laundered the proceeds through U.S. bank accounts, and spent approximately $3 million in South Florida on a private aircraft and luxury goods.
Another unsealed indictment in the Southern District of New York charges three additional Venezuelans with evading OFAC sanctions by working “with U.S. persons and U.S.-based entities to provide private flight services for the benefit of Maduro’s 2018 presidential campaign.”
Additional separate indictments accuse various former Venezuelan officials of drug trafficking and military aircraft smuggling. In addition, several individuals were charged with FCPA violations, including: (i) two individuals for allegedly receiving bribes to award business to U.S.-based companies; and (ii) several individuals for allegedly participating in an international money laundering scheme and conspiring to solicit Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) vendors “for bribes and kickbacks in exchange for providing assistance to those vendors in connection with their PDVSA business.” According to the DOJ’s press release, the scheme involved “bribes paid by the owners of U.S.-based companies to Venezuelan government officials to corruptly secure energy contracts and payment priority on outstanding invoices.”
OFAC Imposes Additional Iranian Sanctions, List Includes Entities Involved in DDoS Attacks Against U.S. Financial Institutions
On September 14, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it was imposing sanctions on 11 entities and individuals for supporting designated Iranian actors or for conducting malicious cyberattacks, including engaging in a series of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against approximately 46 U.S. financial institutions. As reported in an indictment delivered by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York (see March 24, 2016 DOJ press release), the DDoS attacks—allegedly conducted by seven Iranian individuals between December 2011 and mid-2013—denied customers access to online bank accounts and collectively cost the affected financial institutions “tens of millions of dollars in remediation costs as they worked to neutralize and mitigate the attacks on their [computer] servers.” During a DDoS attack, a “malicious actor” gains remote control of a server through the installation of malicious software. Once compromised, the “malicious actor” can collect hundreds or thousands of these compromised devices (collectively known as a “botnet”), and, once control is achieved, will “direct the computers or servers comprising the botnet to carry out computer network attack[s] and computer network exploitation activity.” Three of the seven sanctioned individuals worked for a company that was added to OFAC’s updated SDN list on September 14 and oversaw a network of compromised computers that powered DDoS attacks. The other four individuals operated a second DDoS botnet on behalf of a different company listed on OFAC’s non-SDN list. Both Iranian-based private computer security companies perform work on behalf of the Iranian Government, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Pursuant to E.O. 13694, U.S. persons are prohibited from dealing with the designated entities and individuals, and “foreign financial institutions that facilitate significant transactions for, or persons that provide material or certain other support to, the entities and individuals designated today risk exposure to sanctions that could sever their access to the U.S. financial system or block their property and interests in property under U.S. jurisdiction.”
In addition, pursuant to E.O. 13382, OFAC sanctioned an Iranian-based engineering company for engaging in activities related to Iran’s ballistic missile program, which include providing “ financial, material, technological, or other support for, or goods or services in support of, the [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps].” Two Ukrainian-based companies were also sanctioned pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting previously sanctioned Iranian and Iraqi airlines in obtaining U.S.-origin aircraft, as well as crew and services.
A Ukrainian billionaire indicted in 2013 for his alleged role in a conspiracy to bribe government officials in India to permit the mining of titanium minerals filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on May 9 in a federal district court in Illinois. The billionaire also faces money laundering and RICO charges along with five alleged coconspirators. In 2015, an Austrian court denied the United States’ extradition request, but that decision was eventually reversed and the billionaire was extradited earlier this year. See previous Scorecard coverage here.
The billionaire’s motion to dismiss focuses on the lack of jurisdictional contact between the charged conduct and the United States. It vigorously challenges the jurisdictional basis alleged in the indictment, which was that the billionaire’s coconspirators, but not the billionaire himself, transferred money through United States correspondent banks, traveled to the United states, and used email accounts and cellular phones hosted on servers in the United States. However, the billionaire claims that the indictment fails to allege that any of these contacts have any connection to the alleged bribery scheme and that he never entered the United States in connection with the charged conduct, and never made or received any phone calls or sent or received any emails regarding the allegations in the indictment.
The amount and quality of contacts with the United States required to support jurisdiction under the FCPA is a frequently contested issue. The United States has repeatedly taken the position that jurisdiction is proper even where the wrongful conduct took place outside the United States and did not involve any United States companies or citizens, so long as there was some contact with the United States. For example, in the recent Hungarian telecommunications company cases, emails sent through servers hosted in the United States were held to be sufficient to support jurisdiction. See previous Scorecard coverage here. The outcome of the billionaire’s motion to dismiss will shed further light on the jurisdictional standard.
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