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  • OFAC reissues North Korean Sanctions Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    On March 1, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published a final rule in the Federal Register to amend and reissue the North Korea Sanctions Regulations in their entirety. The final rule implements Executive Orders 13687, 13722, and 13810, references the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 and the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017, and provides the Treasury Secretary, “in consultation with the Secretary of State, additional tools to disrupt North Korea’s ability to fund its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.” All property and interests in property of the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea are blocked, transactions by U.S. persons involving the sanctioned entities are generally prohibited, and “all transactions within the United States, including all financial transactions that transit the U.S. financial system, must comply with OFAC regulations.” Among other things, the final rule (i) incorporates several general licenses previously only available on OFAC’s North Korea Sanctions page; (ii) adds several new general licenses; (iii) adds and expands provisions to provide the public with a more comprehensive set of regulations; (iv) updates certain regulatory provisions; and (v) makes other technical and conforming changes. The final rule takes effect March 5, 2018. Also released the same day were updates to OFAC’s North Korea-related FAQs.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on North Korean sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions International Department of Treasury CAATSA

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  • OFAC sanctions target North Korea’s shipping and trading industry

    Financial Crimes

    On February 23, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed additional sanctions targeting the North Korean shipping and trading industry. The sanctions include the designation of 27 entities, 28 vessels, and one individual consistent with the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin stated, “Treasury is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions, including taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea’s behalf. This will significantly hinder the Kim regime’s capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters.” All property or interests in property held by the sanctioned individual and entities within U.S. jurisdiction must be blocked, and transactions between the designated persons and Americans are also prohibited.

    Separately, OCAC issued a global shipping advisory in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Coast Guard to, among other things, (i) outline methods employed by North Korea to facilitate illicit transactions to evade sanctions; (ii) list due diligence steps companies should employ to monitor illicit North Korean activity and mitigate the risk of potentially engaging in prohibited activity or transactions; and (iii) provide an overview of penalties associated with violating U.S. or UN sanctions.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on North Korean sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions CAATSA International Department of Treasury

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  • Treasury releases Orderly Liquidation Authority report

    Federal Issues

    On February 21, the U.S. Department of the Treasury released a report on the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA) and Bankruptcy Reform. The report is in response to the April 2017 Presidential Memorandum requiring the Treasury Department to review and provide recommendations for improving the OLA under the Dodd-Frank Act, previously covered by InfoBytes here. According to the Treasury Department’s announcement, the recommendations outlined in the report “ensure that taxpayers are protected by strengthening the bankruptcy procedure for a failed financial company and retaining OLA in very limited circumstances with significant reforms.” In addition to recommending a new Chapter 14 of the Bankruptcy Code for distressed financial companies, the report recommends significant reforms to the OLA process, such as (i) creating clear rules administered with impartiality, including restricting the FDIC’s ability to treat similarly situated creditors differently; (ii) ensuring market discipline and strengthening protection for taxpayers by, among other things, only allowing the FDIC to lend on a secured basis; and (iii) strengthening judicial review to provide a stronger check on the decision to invoke OLA.

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  • President Trump releases 2019 budget proposal; key areas of reform include appropriation shifts, cybersecurity, and financial crimes

    Federal Issues

    On February 12, the White House released its fiscal 2019 budget request, Efficient, Effective, Accountable, an American Budget (2019 budget proposal), along with Major Savings and Reforms (MSR) and an Appendix. The mission of the President’s budget sets forth priorities, including imposing fiscal responsibility, reducing wasteful spending, and prioritizing effective programs. However, the 2019 budget proposal has little chance of being enacted as written and does not take into account a two-year budget agreement Congress passed that the President signed into law on February 9. Notable takeaways of the 2019 budget are as follows:

    CFPB. Under the MSR’s “Restructure the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau” section, Congress and the current administration would implement a broad restructuring of the Bureau to “prevent actions that unduly burden the financial industry” by restricting its enforcement authority over federal consumer law. Among other things, the proposed budget would cap the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) transfers this year at $485 million (an amount equivalent to its 2015 budget) and eliminate all transfers by 2020, at which point the Bureau’s appropriations process would shift to Congress.

    Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). As stipulated in the Appendix, the budget proposes legislation, which would authorize the CFTC to collect $31.5 million in user fees to fund certain activities and would bring the Commission’s budget to $281.5 million for 2019. According to the administration, if the authorizing legislation is enacted, it would be “in line with nearly all other Federal financial and banking regulators.”

    Cybersecurity. The 2019 budget proposal requests funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to execute efforts to counter cybercrime. The DOD funds would go towards efforts to sustain the Cyber Command’s 133 Cyber Mission Force Teams, which “are on track to be fully operational by the end of 2018.” Furthermore, the administration states it “will improve its ability to identify and combat cybersecurity risks to agencies’ data, systems, and networks.”

    Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC). Currently FSOC (which is comprised of the heads of the financial regulatory agencies and monitors risk to the U.S. financial system) and the Office of Financial Research (OFR) (FSOC’s independent research arm) receive funding through fees assessed on certain bank holding companies with assets of at least $50 billion as well as nonbanks supervised by the Fed. However, the 2019 budget proposal would require FSOC and OFR to receive their funding through the normal congressional appropriations process. 

    Flood Insurance. Outlined in the MSR is a budget request that would reduce appropriations for the National Flood Insurance Program's flood hazard mapping program by $78 million. The funding reduction is designed to “preserve resources for [DHS]’s core missions”; however, the administration plans to work to “improve efficiency in the flood mapping program, including incentivizing increased State and local government investments in updating flood maps to inform land use decisions and reduce risk.” Additionally, contained within the Appendix is a proposal for a “means-tested affordability program” that would determine assistance for flood insurance premium payments based on a policyholder's income or ability to repay, rather than a home's location or date of construction.

    Government Sponsored Enterprises. Noted within the MSR, the budget proposes doubling the guarantee fee charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to loan originators from 0.10 to 0.20 percentage points from 2019 through 2021. The proposal is designed to help “level the playing field for private lenders seeking to compete with the GSEs” and would “generate approximately $26 billion over the 10-year Budget window.” 

    HUD. The 2019 budget proposal eliminates funding for the following: (i) the CHOICE Neighborhoods program (a savings of $138 million),  on the basis that state and local governments should fund strategies for neighborhood revitalization; (ii) the Community Development Block Grant (a savings of $3 billion), over claims that it “has not demonstrated a measurable impact on communities”; (iii) the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (a savings of $950 million); and (iv) the Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program Account (a savings of $54 million). The budget also proposes reductions to grants provided to the Native American Housing Block Grant and plans to reduce costs across HUD’s rental assistance programs through legislative reforms. Rental assistance programs generally comprise about 80 percent of HUD’s total funding.

    SEC. As stipulated in the MSR, the budget proposes eliminating the SEC’s mandatory reserve fund and would require the SEC to request additional funds through the congressional appropriations process starting in 2020. According to the Appendix, the reserve fund is currently funded by collected registration fees and is not subject to appropriation or apportionment. Under the proposed budget, the registration fees would be deposited in the Treasury’s general fund.

    SIGTARP. As proposed under MSR, the 2019 budget would reduce funding for the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs.” According to the proposal, “Congress aligned the sunset of SIGTARP with the length of time that TARP funds or commitments are outstanding,” which, Treasury estimates, will be in 2023. This will mark the final time payments are expected to be made under the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). As previously covered in InfoBytes, SIGTARP delivered a report to Congress last month, which identified unlawful conduct by certain of the 130 financial institutions in TARP’s Making Home Affordable Program as the top threat to TARP and, thus, the agency’s top investigative priority.

    Student Loan Reform. Under the 2019 budget proposal, a single income-driven repayment plan (IDR) would be created that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and subsidized loans will be eliminated, and reforms will be established to “guarantee that all borrowers in IDR pay an equitable share of their income.” These proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2019, with the exception of loans provided to borrowers in order to finish their “current course of study.”

    Treasury Department. Under the 2019 budget proposal, safeguarding markets and protecting financial data are a top priority for the administration, and $159 million has been requested for Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence to “continue its critical work safeguarding the financial system from abuse and combatting other national security threats using non-kinetic economic tools. These additional resources would be used to economically isolate North Korea, complete the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center in Saudi Arabia, and increase sanctions pressure on Iran, including through the implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.” The budget also requests a $3 million increase from 2017 to be applied to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s authority to administer the Bank Secrecy Act and its work to prevent the financing of terrorism, money laundering, and other financial crimes.  

    Federal Issues Budget Trump CFPB CFTC FSOC Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Flood Insurance HUD SEC Student Lending Department of Treasury

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  • FinCEN proposes measure against Latvian bank for alleged money laundering schemes, blocks U.S. accounts

    Financial Crimes

    On February 13, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a finding and notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, seeking to prohibit the opening or maintaining of correspondent accounts in the United States for, or on behalf of, a Latvian-based bank. The NPRM is being issued based on findings that the bank has “institutionalized money laundering as a pillar of [its] business practices.” According to the NPRM, the bank’s management (i) “permits the bank and its employees to orchestrate and engage in money laundering schemes”; (ii) “solicits the high-risk shell company activity that enables the bank and its customers to launder funds”; (iii) “maintains inadequate controls over high-risk shell company accounts”; and (iv) “seeks to obstruct enforcement of Latvian anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) rules in order to protect these business practices.” Specifically, Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin asserted that the bank’s failure to implement effective AML/CFT and sanctions policies and procedures has become a conduit for widespread illicit activity, “including activity linked to North Korea’s weapons program and corruption connected to Russia and Ukraine.” The measures set forth under the NPRM are designed to protect the U.S. financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing threats. Comments are due 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism International Department of Treasury Federal Register

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  • OFAC issues sanctions against persons involved in Hizballah financial network

    Financial Crimes

    On February 2, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against six individuals and seven entities for providing financial support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. Issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which “provides a means by which to disrupt the financial support network for terrorists and terrorist organizations by authorizing the U.S. government to designate and block the assets of foreign individuals and entities that commit, or pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism,” the sanctions target the business operations of Hizballah and serve to further Treasury’s continued measures to “sever Hizballah from the international financial system.” OFAC stressed that, pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, it has the authority to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the [U.S.] of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.” All property, or interests in property, held by the sanctioned individuals and entities within U.S. jurisdiction will be blocked, and transactions between the sanctioned individuals and entities and Americans are also “generally prohibited.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions Department of Treasury International

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  • Treasury releases list of Russian senior foreign political figures and oligarchs, does not impose new sanctions

    Financial Crimes

    On January 29, the U.S. Treasury Department released an unclassified report to Congress containing a list of 210 individuals who are either senior foreign political figures in the Russian Federation or Russian oligarchs with a net worth of at least $1 billion. Treasury emphasized that the report—which was mandated through Section 241 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA)— (i) is not a sanctions list; (ii) should not be interpreted as a determination that individuals or entities included in the report or listed within classified appendices or annexes meet the criteria for sanctions designation (individuals and entities subject to separate sanctions are denoted within the report); and (iii) does not serve to indicate that the U.S. Government possesses information about an “individual’s involvement in malign activities.” Classified lists that may include officials and oligarchs of lesser rank and wealth will be submitted as well. Additionally, Treasury submitted to Congress a required classified annex to the report, which lists Russian parastatals entities that are defined as “companies in which state ownership is at least 25 percent and that had 2016 revenues of approximately $2 billion or more.” The annex also presents an analysis of potential impact on the U.S. economy that may result should additional debt and equity restrictions or sanctions be imposed on the identified entities.

    Separately, on January 30, Treasury released updated FAQs to address questions related to the report’s release.

    See here for additional CAATSA InfoBytes coverage.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury Sanctions International CAATSA OFAC

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  • OFAC continues to expand North Korean sanctions

    Financial Crimes

    On January 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed additional sanctions in response to North Korea's ongoing weapons development programs, continued sanctions evasions, and United Nations Security Council Resolutions violations. The sanctions were issued against nine entities, 16 individuals, and six vessels pursuant to Executive Orders 13810 or 13687. Five of the sanctioned individuals have links to North Korean financial networks, with several of the individuals in possession of accounts held at Chinese banks. All property held by the sanctioned individuals and entities within U.S. jurisdiction was frozen, and transactions between the sanctioned individuals and entities and Americans are also prohibited.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on North Korean sanctions.

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  • OFAC releases updated Venezuela-related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On January 19, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the release of updated FAQs to address the prohibition of United States persons from purchasing or dealing in the Venezuelan government’s proposed digital currency under Executive Order 13808.

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage of Venezuelan sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury International Virtual Currency

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  • Senate Banking Committee: The impact of cryptocurrency in AML/BSA enforcement

    Financial Crimes

    On January 17, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a second hearing with witnesses from the Treasury and Justice departments to further address the need to modernize and reform the Bank Secrecy Act and anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) regime. The hearing, entitled “Combating Money Laundering and Other Forms of Illicit Finance: Administration Perspectives on Reforming and Strengthening BSA Enforcement,” follows a January 9 hearing before the same Committee on related issues (see previous InfoBytes coverage here). Committee Chairman Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, opened the hearing by stating the need to understand the government’s position on “strengthening enforcement and protecting the integrity of the U.S. financial system in a new technological era,” while also recognizing the challenges technology creates for law enforcement. A primary topic of interest to the Committee was “the rise of cryptocurrencies and their potential to facilitate sanctions evasion and perhaps, other crimes.”

    The first witness, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Sigal Mandelker (testimony), noted that money laundering related to cryptocurrencies is “an area of high focus” for Treasury, and highlighted actions taken by Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), such as the release of guidance announcing that “virtual currency exchangers and administrators” are subject to regulations under the BSA. Regulated entities, Mandelker stated, are required to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) and are subject to FinCEN and IRS examinations and enforcement actions. Mandelker further commented that Treasury is “aggressively tackling” illicit financing entering the U.S. system and elsewhere, and stressed that other countries face consequences if they fail to have an AML/Combating the Financing of Terrorism regime that meets Treasury standards.

    The second witness, DOJ acting deputy assistant attorney general M. Kendall Day (testimony), informed the Committee of the recent hiring of a digital currency counsel who is responsible for ensuring prosecutors are up-to-date on the latest money-laundering threats in the digital currency field. Day also commented on recent DOJ prosecutions in this space, and emphasized the need for enhanced information sharing for law enforcement, including the benefit of deriving information from SARs.

    Financial Crimes Senate Banking Committee Department of Treasury DOJ Anti-Money Laundering Bank Secrecy Act Fintech Cryptocurrency Virtual Currency FinCEN SARs Enforcement

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