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  • OFAC publishes Global Magnitsky Sanctions Regulations

    Financial Crimes

    On June 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced the issuance of regulations to implement the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, as well as Executive Order 13818, which calls for the blocking of property of certain persons involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption. Among other things, the Global Magnitsky Sanctions Regulations outline certain prohibitions related to: (i) transactions involving blocked property, in addition to expenses pertaining to the maintenance or liquidation of blocked property; (ii) the holding of funds in blocked interest-bearing accounts; and (iii) exempt transactions. OFAC further noted it plans to “supplement these regulations with a more comprehensive set of regulations, which may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance, general licenses, and statements of licensing policy.” The regulations took effect June 29.

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  • OFAC revokes JCPOA-related General Licenses

    Financial Crimes

    On June 27, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an announcement revoking Iran-related General Licenses H and I (GL-H and GL-I) following President Trump’s May 8 withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In conjunction with these changes, OFAC amended the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations to authorize certain wind-down activities through August 6 (GL-I) and November 4 (GL-H) related to, among other things, letters of credit and brokering services. In addition OFAC released updated FAQs related to the May 8 re-imposition of nuclear-related sanctions.

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.

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  • House Financial Services Committee examines implications of “de-risking”

    Federal Issues

    On June 26, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit held a hearing titled, “Examining the International and Domestic Implications of De-Risking,” which examined financial institutions terminating “high risk” relationships to minimize compliance exposure. The press release notes that high-risk entities can also include legitimate businesses such as firearms sellers and payday lenders. Subcommittee Chairman, Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO), stated that the termination of these relationships has “resulted in the elimination of consumer and small business access to financial products and services, a decrease in the availability of money remittances, and reduced flow of humanitarian aid globally.” Agreeing with the Chairman, many witnesses emphasized the impact de-risking has on the international financial system, including access to banking in the U.S. southwest border region and in the Caribbean and Central America. While recognizing the importance of anti-money laundering regulations and financial sanctions policies, the witnesses encouraged Congress to consider opportunities to ensure equal access to the financial system for legitimate businesses.

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  • FinCEN issues advisory on connection between politically exposed persons and financial facilitators

    Financial Crimes

    On June 12, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to U.S. financial institutions to increase awareness of the connection between high-level political corruption and human rights abuses. The advisory highlights the use of financial facilitators as a means to gain access to global financial systems for the purpose of moving or hiding illicit proceeds and evading U.S. and global sanctions. Among other things, the advisory, which is designed to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activity, provides typologies used by “politically exposed persons” (PEPs) to access the U.S. financial system and obscure illicit activity. FinCEN also provides several red flags outlining various types of suspected schemes that may be indicators of suspicious activity. The advisory’s regulatory guidance further reminds financial institutions of their risk-based, due diligence obligations, which include (i) identifying legal entities owned or controlled by PEPs (as required by FinCEN’s Customer Due Diligence Rule); (ii) complying with anti-money laundering program obligations; and (iii) filing Suspicious Activity Reports related to illegal activity undertaken by senior foreign political figures.

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  • OFAC sanctions Russian entities and individuals for cyber activities connected to FSB

    Financial Crimes

    On June 11, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced its decision to sanction five Russian entities and three Russian individuals connected to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), pursuant to Section 244 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) and Executive Order 13694. The sanctions target individuals and entities who, through “malign and destabilizing cyber activities,” have provided material and technological support to the FSB. Pursuant to OFAC’s sanctions, all property and interests in property of the designated persons within U.S. jurisdiction are blocked, and U.S. persons are “generally prohibited” from participating in transactions with these individuals and entities. As part of the announcement, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that “The United States is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States and will continue to utilize our sanctions authorities, including those provided under CAATSA, to counter the constantly evolving threats emanating from Russia.”

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Russian sanctions.

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  • 4th Circuit affirms sanctions for attorneys in payday lawsuit

    Courts

    On May 31, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed sanctions against three attorneys for challenging the authenticity of a loan document for two years without revealing they had obtained a copy of the document from their client before filing the original complaint. The action results from a now closed case in which a consumer alleged he received loans at predatory interest rates (annual interest rate of about 139 percent) from a tribal lender and sought to impose liability on the non-lenders, including a credit union, which processed the debit transactions under the loan agreement. In response to a motion to dismiss, the attorneys for the consumer challenged the authenticity of the loan agreement provided by the credit union. After years of litigation, the credit union discovered the consumer had provided his attorneys with the loan agreement prior to the original complaint filing and moved for sanctions against the attorneys. The attorneys argued that they had no affirmative duty to disclose documents before the opening of discovery.

    The lower court disagreed, determining that each attorney had “acted in bad faith and vexatiously and violated their duty of candor by hiding a relevant and potentially dispositive document from the Court in connection with a long-running dispute over arbitrability.” In February 2017, the lower court ordered two attorneys and their respective law firms jointly liable for $150,000 in attorneys’ fees and a third associate attorney jointly liable for $100,000. Upon appeal, the 4th Circuit held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in awarding the compensatory sanctions, stating “without losing the forest for the trees, we conclude that the district court reasonably described sanctioned counsels’ conduct as evincing a multi-year crusade to suppress the truth to gain a tactical litigation advantage.”

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  • OFAC adds Iranians to Specially Designated Nationals List

    Financial Crimes

    On May 30, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) made additions to the Specially Designated Nationals List under the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations and Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations. OFAC’s additions to the designations identify nine individuals and entities that were found to have (i) committed serious human rights abuses on behalf of the Government of Iran; (ii) operated technology that facilitates monitoring that could assist in serious human rights abuses by the Government of Iran; or (iii) engaged, or acting on behalf of someone engaged, in censorship activities limiting the freedom of expression or assembly of citizens in Iran. As a result, all assets belonging to the identified individuals and entities subject to U.S. jurisdiction are blocked and must be reported to OFAC, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Iran.

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  • OFAC updates Ukraine-/Russia-related FAQs to address authorized wind-down activities permitted under certain general licenses

    Financial Crimes

    On May 25, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published two additional FAQs to provide additional guidance on authorized wind-down activities outlined within General Licenses (GL) 12C, 14, and 15. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here concerning GL 14 and here for GL 12C and GL 15.) Specifically, the FAQs discuss conditions under which a U.S. person is authorized to receive scheduled principal and interest payments from identified blocked persons for a loan or bond in existence before the April 6 sanctions against Russian oligarchs or entities. The FAQs also address sanction implications for a foreign entity—that is itself not blocked—who pays dividends to a blocked person holding less than 50 percent equity interest.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine/Russian sanctions.

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  • OFAC issues new Ukraine-/Russia-related General Licenses authorizing additional wind-down activities

    Financial Crimes

    On May 22, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued Ukraine-/Russia-related General License 15 (GL 15) authorizing specified wind-down activities through October 23, which would be otherwise prohibited by Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations. Permissible activities with the designated company and its subsidiaries apply to operations, contracts, and agreements that were effective prior to April 6. OFAC further stated that, while funds blocked prior to May 22 remain blocked, GL 15 permits the use of these blocked funds for specified maintenance and wind-down activities.

    The same day, OFAC also issued Ukraine-/Russia-related General License 12C (GL 12C) to replace and supersede General License 12B (GL 12B) in its entirety. (See previous InfoBytes coverage on GL 12B here.) GL 12C, which incorporates exemptions permitted under GL 15, authorizes wind-down activities “originating and intermediary U.S. financial institutions to process funds transfers that they would otherwise block to an account held by a blocked U.S. person at a U.S. financial institution,” and allows the release of “such funds for authorized maintenance and wind-down purposes.” GL 12C is effective May 22.

    OFAC also released six new FAQs and published updated FAQs related to these general licenses.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on Ukraine/Russian sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Ukraine Russia Sanctions International

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  • President Trump issues new Executive Order prohibiting the purchase of debt from the Venezuelan government

    Financial Crimes

    On May 21, President Trump issued an Executive Order (E.O.) prohibiting U.S. companies or individuals from buying debt or accounts receivable from the Venezuelan government “in light of the recent activities of the Maduro regime, including endemic economic mismanagement and public corruption at the expense of the Venezuelan people and their prosperity.” The sanctions specifically prohibit transactions related to the following: (i) “the purchase of debt owed to the Venezualan government, including accounts receivable;” (ii) debt pledged as collateral after May 21, including accounts receivable; and (iii) “the sale, transfer, assignment, or pledging as collateral by the Government of Venezuela of any equity interest in any entity in which the Government of Venezuela has a 50 percent or greater ownership interest.”

    The E.O., issued in conjunction with E.O. 13692, follows two prior E.O.s, which also targeted the Maduro regime—E.O. 13827, which prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in transactions that involve digital currency issued by, for, or on behalf of the Venezuelan government, and E.O. 13808, which prohibits transactions related to new debt, bonds, and dividend payments in conjunction with the Venezuelan government and the state-owned oil company. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.). The E.O. took effect on May 21 at 12:30 p.m. EDT.

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of actions related to Venezuela.

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