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On December 4, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued Notice 2018-1 announcing a further extension of time for certain Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) filings in light of FinCEN’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPR) published March 10, 2016. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 NPR here.) Specifically, one of the proposed amendments seeks to “expand and clarify the exemptions for certain U.S. persons with signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts,” but with no financial interest, as outlined in FinCEN Notice 2017-1 issued December 22, 2017. FinCEN noted that because the proposal has not been finalized, it is extending the filing due date to April 15, 2020 for individuals who previously qualified for a filing due date extension under Notice 2017-1. All other individuals must submit FBAR filings by April 15, 2019.
On December 7, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13H, 14D, 15C, and 16D, which amend previous licenses related to permissible wind-down transactions that otherwise would be prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations with respect to the subject entities. OFAC extended the expiration dates of the licenses from January 7 to January 21.
GL 13H supersedes GL 13G and authorizes, among other things, activities “ordinarily incident and necessary” to (i) divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings in the specified blocked entities to a non-U.S. person; or (ii) facilitate the transfers of debt, equity, or other holdings in those entities by a non-U.S. person to another non-U.S. person. GL 14D, which supersedes GL 14C, relates to specific wind-down activities involving a Russian aluminum producer sanctioned last April as previously covered by InfoBytes here. GL 15C and GL 16D supersede GL 15B and GL 16C, respectively, and authorize permissible activities relating to the maintenance or wind-down of operations, contracts, and agreements with designated entities and subsidiaries that were effective prior to April 6.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine sanctions.
Agencies encourage financial institutions to explore innovative industry approaches to BSA/AML compliance
On December 3, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) released a joint statement along with federal banking agencies—the Federal Reserve Board, FDIC, NCUA, and OCC (together, the “agencies”)—to encourage banks and credit unions to explore innovative approaches such as artificial intelligence, digital identity technologies, and internal financial intelligence units to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit financial threats when safeguarding the financial system. According to the agencies, private sector innovation and the adoption of new technologies can enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (BSA/AML) compliance programs. Moreover, new innovations and technologies can also enhance transaction monitoring systems. Specifically, the agencies urged banks to test innovative programs to explore the use of artificial intelligence. However, the agencies emphasized that while feedback on innovative programs may be provided, the “pilot programs in and of themselves should not subject banks to supervisory criticism even if the pilot programs ultimately prove unsuccessful. Likewise, pilot programs that expose gaps in a BSA/AML compliance program will not necessarily result in supervisory action with respect to that program.” The joint statement further specifies that the agencies will be willing to grant exceptive relief from BSA regulatory requirements to facilitate pilot programs, “provided that banks maintain the overall effectiveness of their BSA/AML compliance programs.” However, banks that maintain effective compliance programs but choose not to innovate will not be penalized or criticized.
According to Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker, “[a]s money launderers and other illicit actors constantly evolve their tactics, we want the compliance community to likewise adapt their efforts to counter these threats,” pointing to the recent use of innovative technologies to identify and report illicit financial activity related to both Iran and North Korea.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier in October the agencies provided guidance on resource sharing between banks and credit unions in order to more efficiently and effectively manage their BSA/AML obligations.
On November 30, the U.S. Treasury Department, the Canadian Department of Finance, and the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit of Mexico (collectively, the “authorities”) announced the creation of the Canada-Mexico-United States Financial Regulatory Forum (Forum) to share information on financial sector developments and financial regulatory practices and procedures. The authorities published a joint “understanding,” which outlines the Forum’s intentions, including: (i) sharing information to allow for timely identification of potential cross-border financial regulatory issues; (ii) exchanging views on emerging financial sector developments and financial stability risks; and (iii) discussing regulatory issues that arise in bilateral and multilateral contexts or which relate to international standards. The Forum intends to meet annually.
OFAC announces cyber-related designations, releases digital-currency addresses to identify illicit actors
On November 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13694 against two Iran-based individuals for allegedly helping to facilitate the exchange of ransom payments made in Bitcoin into local currency. For the first time, OFAC also identified two digital currency addresses associated with the identified financial facilitators who are designated “for having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of” ransomware attacks that threaten the “national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the [U.S.]” According to OFAC, the provided digital currency addresses should be used to assist in identifying transactions and funds to be blocked as well as investigating potential connections.
Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker stated, “We are publishing digital-currency addresses to identify illicit actors operating in the digital-currency space. Treasury will aggressively pursue Iran and other rogue regimes attempting to exploit digital currencies and weaknesses in cyber and [anti-money laundering/countering financing of terrorism] safeguards to further their nefarious objectives.” OFAC issued a warning that persons who engage in transactions with the identified individuals “could be subject to secondary sanctions” and that “[r]egardless of whether a transaction is denominated in a digital currency or traditional fiat currency, OFAC compliance obligations are the same.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction “or within or transiting” the U.S. are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them. OFAC also released new FAQs to provide guidance for financial institutions on digital currency.
View here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.
On November 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $87,507 settlement with an aerospace and defense technology company for three alleged violations by a former subsidiary of the Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations (URSR). According to OFAC, the settlement resolves potential civil liability for the former subsidiary’s alleged involvement in the “indirect export of components to be incorporated into commercial air traffic control radar” through Canadian and Russian distributors “to a person owned 50 percent or more, directly or indirectly, by a person identified on OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.”
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC considered the following as aggravating factors: (i) the former subsidiary’s failure to recognize warning signs; (ii) the transactions, which constituted the apparent violations, were reviewed and approved by the Director of Global Trade Compliance, and “resulted in harm to the sanctions program objectives of the URSR”; (iii) the company and former subsidiary are large, sophisticated entities; and (iv) the company and its compliance personnel previously violated Iranian Transaction and Sanctions Regulations, while the former subsidiary was subject to a consent agreement as a result of recurring compliance failures.
However OFAC also considered mitigating factors, including (i) the former subsidiary has not received a penalty or finding of a violation in the five years prior to the transactions at issue; (ii) the company has cooperated with OFAC and implemented remedial measures, including terminating the violative conduct and implementing steps to minimize the risk of reoccurring conduct; and (iii) the company voluntarily disclosed the alleged violations on behalf of the former subsidiary.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine sanctions.
On November 19, the Federal Reserve Board, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), DOJ, Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and NYDFS announced that a French bank agreed to pay approximately $1.34 billion in total penalties to resolve federal and state investigations into the bank’s allegedly intentional violation of U.S. sanctions laws and other federal and New York state laws from approximately 2003 to 2013.
The bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York to settle charges of conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions against Cuba by “structuring, conducting, and concealing U.S. dollar transactions using the U.S. financial system.” The DPA requires the bank to forfeit more than $717 million. The bank also agreed to “accept responsibility for its conduct by stipulating to the accuracy of an extensive Statement of Facts, pay penalties totaling [$1.34 billion] to federal and state prosecutors and regulators, refrain from all future criminal conduct, and implement remedial measures as required by its regulators.” According to the DOJ, the bank “admitted its willful violations of U.S. sanctions laws—and longtime concealment of those violations—which resulted in billions of dollars of illicit funds flowing through the U.S. financial system.” As factors mitigating the penalty, the DPA acknowledges the bank’s efforts to collect and produce “voluminous evidence located in other countries to the full extent permitted under applicable laws and regulations, and its enhancement of its compliance program and sanctions-related internal controls both before and after it became the subject of a U.S. law enforcement investigation.” Among other factors, the bank’s willingness to enter into the terms of the DPA, outweighed its “failure to self-report all of its violations of [U.S.] sanctions laws in a timely manner.”
The bank also entered into agreements to pay almost $163 million to the New York County District Attorney’s Office, nearly $54 million to OFAC, approximately $81 million to the Federal Reserve Board, and $325 million to NYDFS. Among other things, NYDFS noted that branch employees “responsible for originating USD transactions outside of the U.S. had a minimal understanding of U.S. sanctions laws and regulations as they related to Sudan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea, or other U.S. sanctions targets.”
Separate from the resolution of alleged sanctions violations, NYDFS imposed an additional $95 million penalty to resolve findings that the bank’s New York branch allegedly failed to “implement and maintain an effective Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering Law compliance program and transaction monitoring system.”
According to a bank statement issued the same day, the bank acknowledges and regrets the identified shortcomings, and “has already taken a number of significant steps in recent years and dedicated substantial resources to enhance its sanctions and AML compliance programs.”
On November 13, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against four Hizballah-affiliated individuals for their alleged leadership roles in the group’s terrorist financial activities in Iraq, including providing support for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). According to OFAC, the sanctions were issued pursuant to Executive Order 13224, which “targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.” OFAC’s designations follow the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2018—signed into law October 25—along with the reimposition of Iran-related sanctions on November 5 (see previous InfoBytes coverage here), and reinforces U.S. efforts to “protect the international financial system by targeting Hizballah’s supporters, financial networks, and those that facilitate and enable its destabilizing activities worldwide.” Furthermore, OFAC states that the four Specially Designated Global Terrorists are also subject to secondary sanctions under the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implement the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015, and allows OFAC 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.” As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on sanctions involving Hizballah networks.
On November 9, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of Ukraine-related General Licenses (GL) 13G, 14C, 15B, and 16C, which amend previous licenses related to permissible wind-down transactions that otherwise would be prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations with respect to the subject entities. OFAC extended the expiration dates of the licenses from December 12 to January 7, 2019, while reviewing the sanctioned entities’ proposed “substantial corporate governance changes” that may result in significant changes in their control.
GL 13G supersedes GL 13F and authorizes, among other things, activities “ordinarily incident and necessary” to (i) divest or transfer debt, equity, or other holdings in the specified blocked entities to a non-U.S. person; or (ii) facilitate the transfers of debt, equity, or other holdings in those entities by a non-U.S. person to another non-U.S. person. GL 14C, which supersedes GL 14B, relates to specific wind-down activities involving a Russian aluminum producer sanctioned last April as previously covered by InfoBytes here. GL 15B and GL 16C supersede GL 15A and GL 16B, respectively, and authorize permissible activities relating to the maintenance or wind-down of operations, contracts, and agreements with designated entities and subsidiaries that were effective prior to April 6.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine sanctions.
On November 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction an additional three individuals and nine entities, pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) and Executive Orders (E.O.) 13685 and 13661, for supporting Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine and its continued “malign activity and destabilizing behavior.” According to OFAC, two of the individuals and one of the entities placed on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (SDN List) allegedly engaged in serious human rights abuses in “territories forcibly occupied or otherwise controlled by Russia” under the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014, as amended by CAATSA Section 228. Additionally, pursuant to E.O. 13685, OFAC imposed sanctions on eight entities and one individual allegedly responsible for helping Russia advance its interests by operating in the Crimea region of Ukraine. OFAC further noted that one of the eight entities is also designated for being owned or controlled by, directly or indirectly, a sanctioned Russian bank and a Russian national whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13661. As a result, all property and interests in property belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from entering into transactions with them.
Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Russia sanctions.
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Trends in regulatory enforcement" at the American Bar Association Banking Law Committee Meeting
- Jessica L. Pollet to discuss "Your career is impacting your life..." at the Ark Group Women Legal Conference
- Jon David D. Langlois to discuss "Successors in interest updates" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo
- Brandy A. Hood to discuss "Keeping your head above water in flood insurance compliance" at the Mortgage Bankers Association National Mortgage Servicing Conference & Expo