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On January 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 14024 against four individuals engaged in Russian government-directed influence activities to destabilize Ukraine. OFAC stated that it will continue to take actions, including in partnership with the Ukrainian government, “to undercut Russia’s destabilization efforts.” The designations are the latest actions to target purveyors of Russian disinformation, including similar designations made last April (covered by InfoBytes here). As a result of the sanctions, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Additionally, “any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.” OFAC noted that its regulations generally prohibit U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, which include “the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person, or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods or services from any such person.”
On January 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control published a new FAQ 956 regarding Belarus, Ukraine-/Russia-related, and Venezuela-related sanctions programs, which prohibit U.S. persons from dealing in certain new debts (such as bonds, loans, drafts, loan guarantees, or letters of credit) of certain identified persons in these countries. The FAQ provides additional guidance on how OFAC views modifications to pre-existing loans, contracts, or other agreements to replace LIBOR as the reference rate. According to the FAQ, “[l]oans, contracts, or other agreements that use LIBOR as a reference rate that are modified to replace such benchmark reference rate will not be treated as new debt for OFAC sanctions purposes, so long as no other material terms of the loan, contract, or agreement are modified.”
On July 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $1.4 million settlement with a New York-based online money transmitter for 2,260 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs. According to OFAC’s web notice, between February 4, 2013 and February 20, 2018, the company allegedly processed 2,241 payments for parties located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions, including the Crimea region of Ukraine, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, as well as 19 payments on behalf of sanctioned persons identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. Identified deficiencies in the company’s sanctions compliance program related to screening, testing, auditing, and transaction review procedures allowed persons in these jurisdictions and regions and those on the SDN List to engage in roughly $802,117.36 worth of transactions, OFAC stated. The apparent violations—related to commercial transactions that the company processed on behalf of its corporate customers and card-issuing financial institutions—allegedly occurred as a result of weak algorithms, business identifier code screening failures, backlogs, and a failure to monitor IP addresses or flag addresses in sanctioned locations.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various aggravating factors, including that (i) the company failed to exercise sufficient caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations; (ii) the company had reason to know users were located in sanctioned jurisdictions and regions based on common indications it had within its possession; and (iii) the apparent violations harmed six different sanctions program.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) senior management quickly self-disclosed the apparent violations upon discovery and provided substantial cooperation during the investigation; (ii) the company has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years; and (iii) the company has taken remedial measures to minimize the risk of recurrence, including terminating the conduct leading to the apparent violations, retraining compliance employees, enhancing screening software, putting flagged transactions into a pending status rather than completing them, and conducting a daily review of customers’ and counter-parties’ identification documents.
On May 21, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of 2019 (PEESA) General License (GL) 1, which authorizes certain activities otherwise prohibited involving the Federal State Budgetary Institution Marine Rescue Service (MRS). However, GL 1 does not authorize any transactions or activities involving any vessels identified on OFAC’s Non-SDN Menu-Based Sanctions List “as blocked property of MRS or of any entity in which MRS owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest,” or any PEESA prohibited transactions or activities. OFAC also issued related FAQs 894 and 895 and added entities and vessels to its Non-SDN Menu-Based Sanctions List. Furthermore, OFAC added two vessels to the Specially Designated National List, and reiterated in FAQ 895 that “property and interests in property of persons on the SDN List are blocked and any entity owned 50 percent or more, individually or in the aggregate, directly or indirectly, by one or more blocked persons is itself blocked.”
On December 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License (GL) 5F, “Authorizing Certain Transactions Related to the Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. 2020 8.5 Percent Bond on or After July 21, 2021,” which replaces and supersedes GL 5E. OFAC also amended related FAQ 595, which reminds parties that, until July 21, 2021, transactions related to the sale or transfer of CITGO shares in connection with the PdVSA 2020 8.5 percent bond are prohibited, unless specifically authorized by OFAC.
Additionally, OFAC concurrently announced the issuance of Ukraine-related GLs 13P and 15J. GL 13P, “Authorizing Certain Transactions Necessary to Divest or Transfer Debt, Equity, or Other Holdings in GAZ Group,” is effective December 23 and replaces and supersedes GL 13O. Additionally, GL 15J, “Authorizing Certain Activities Involving GAZ Group,” is also effective on December 23 and replaces and supersedes GL 15I.
On September 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced two settlements totaling $583,100 with the U.S.-based subsidiary of a global financial institution for apparent violations of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations. According to OFAC, the financial institution allegedly agreed to process a funds transfer exceeding $28 million through the U.S. related to a series of purchases of fuel oil involving a property interest of an oil company in Cyprus that was previously designated by OFAC. OFAC alleged that at the time the payment was processed, the bank “had reason to know of the designated oil company’s potential interest, but did not conduct sufficient due diligence to determine whether the designated oil company’s interest in the payment had been extinguished.” The bank agreed to pay $157,500 to resolve the apparent violation.
Additionally, OFAC stated the bank also agreed to separately remit $425,600 for apparent violations stemming from the processing of 61 transactions “destined for accounts at a designated financial institution.” The bank allegedly failed to stop these payments because its sanctions screening tool did not include a specific business identifier code assigned to the designated financial institution, OFAC claimed, and its screening tool “was calibrated so that only an exact match to a designated entity would trigger further manual review.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered various mitigating factors, including that (i) the apparent violations were non-egregious; (ii) the bank had in place “an OFAC compliance program at the time of the apparent violations”; and (iii) the bank has undertaken remedial efforts to address the deficiencies, including reviewing the circumstances of the apparent violations with its U.S. sanctions compliance unit, and agreeing to conduct additional training and implement changes to internal procedures as necessary.
OFAC also considered various aggravating factors, including that “several senior managers within the bank’s anti-financial crime division, as well as a representative from its counsel’s office, failed to exercise a minimal degree of caution or care in connection with the conduct that led to the apparent violation,” and had actual knowledge of the alleged conduct.
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.
OFAC sanctions persons connected to Nicaragua President Ortega; amends Nicaragua sanctions regulations and Ukraine-related general licenses
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).
On March 20, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced it extended the expiration dates of two Ukraine-related general licenses (GLs) by issuing GL 13N, which supersedes GL 13M, and GL 15H, which supersedes GL 15G. Both GLs—which now expire July 22—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).
Visit here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Ukraine.
On January 29, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it took action against seven “Crimean Officials” backed by Russia, and a Russian railway company and its CEO. The announcement states that the officials unilaterally assumed governmental control of the Crimean Peninsula. OFAC designated the officials under Executive Order (E.O.) 13660, in partnership with Canada and the European Union (EU), which both also designated the officials “in a strong demonstration of the international community’s continued condemnation of Russia’s interference in Crimean politics.” According to the announcement, Secretary of the Treasury, Steven T. Mnuchin, asserts that he believes the coordinated designations by OFAC and the two nations may prevent the “illegitimate officials” from doing business internationally. The OFAC designations of the railway company and its CEO for operating in the Crimea Region of Ukraine under E.O. 13685, come shortly after the railway started a passenger route from Russia to the Crimean Peninsula in late December. As a result of the sanctions, “all property and interests in property of these individuals and entity that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC.” OFAC noted that its regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from participating in transactions with the designated persons, and warned foreign persons that if they knowingly facilitate significant transactions for any of the designated persons, they may be designated themselves.
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