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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations


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  • FinCEN revises GTOs to expand coverage to 12 metropolitan areas, lower reporting threshold, and include virtual currencies

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On November 15, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) reissued a revised Geographic Targeting Order (GTO), which requires U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies that pay “all cash” (i.e., the transaction does not involve external financing) for high-end residential real estate in 12 major metropolitan areas. Notably, the purchase amount threshold for the beneficial ownership reporting requirement—which previously varied by city—is now set at $300,000 for residential real estate purchased in the 12 covered areas. In addition, FinCEN requires title insurance companies to report covered purchases made using virtual currencies. FinCEN states that the reissued GTO “will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity, as well as inform FinCEN’s future regulatory efforts in this sector.”

    The revised GTO takes effect November 17, and covers certain counties within the following areas: Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Honolulu, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.

    Visit here for additional InfoBytes coverage on FinCEN GTOs.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Financial Crimes FinCEN GTO Anti-Money Laundering

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  • OFAC sanctions individuals connected to Hizballah, IRGC-QF networks in Iraq

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Russia Ukraine Sanctions

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  • 9th Circuit hears oral arguments on overturning FCPA whistleblower retaliation award

    Financial Crimes

    On November 14, 2018, a three judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments for a life science research and diagnostics company hoping to overturn a February 2017 jury verdict ordering the company to pay its former General Counsel and Secretary $11 million in punitive and compensatory damages. The former employee’s complaint alleged that the company had fired him for being an FCPA whistleblower. As detailed in a previous FCPA Scorecard post, the company paid $55 million in November 2014 to settle DOJ and SEC allegations that the company violated the FCPA in Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam. The former employee’s report to the Audit Committee had involved separate allegations that the company violated the FCPA in China, allegations that did not result in additional penalties against the company.

    The company appealed the former employee's award on the grounds that the jury was erroneously instructed that the SEC’s rules or regulations forbid bribery of a foreign official; that the company’s alleged FCPA violations were the result of the former employee’s lack of due diligence; that the trial court wrongly excluded certain impeachment testimony and evidence related to the timing of his pursuit and hiring of a whistleblower attorney; and that he did not qualify as a “whistleblower” under Dodd-Frank in light of his reporting only internally and not to the SEC (pursuant to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in another case). During the argument, one member of the circuit panel reportedly expressed doubt concerning the company’s jury instruction argument, and another told counsel for the company, “I don’t see how this can be reversed on the theory you’re offering.”

    For prior coverage of the company's matter, please see here and here.

    Financial Crimes DOJ SEC FCPA Whistleblower

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  • OFAC issues extension of Ukraine-related General Licenses

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of Treasury Ukraine Sanctions

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  • OFAC sanctions target persons supporting Russia’s “malign activity” in Crimea and eastern Ukraine

    Financial Crimes

    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.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Russia Ukraine Sanctions

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  • Money services business agrees to extend DOJ deferred prosecution agreement; settles FTC order breach

    Financial Crimes

    On November 8, the DOJ announced that a money services business has agreed to forfeit $125 million and extend its deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) due to deficiencies in its anti-fraud and anti-money laundering (AML) programs. The global settlement also resolves contempt allegations brought by the FTC related to the violation of a 2009 FTC order, which mandated that the company implement a comprehensive fraud prevention program.

    The DOJ filed charges against the company in 2012 for allegedly “willfully failing to maintain an effective AML program and aiding and abetting wire fraud,” including scams targeting the elderly and other vulnerable groups that involved victims sending funds through the company’s money transfer system.  In connection with the DOJ’s and company’s joint motion to extend and amend the DPA, the DOJ announced that the company: (i) experienced significant weaknesses in its AML and anti-fraud program; (ii) inadequately disclosed these weaknesses to the government; and (iii) failed to complete all of the DPA’s required enhanced compliance undertakings, resulting in the processing of at least $125 million additional consumer fraud transactions between April 2015 and October 2016. Under the amendment to and extension of the DPA—in effect until May 2021—the company has agreed to, among other things, comply with additional enhanced anti-fraud and AML compliance obligations.

    In a related matter, the FTC filed a motion for compensatory relief and modified order for permanent injunction, which alleges that the company failed to adopt and implement a comprehensive fraud prevention program mandated by the 2009 order.  The motion indicates that the company has agreed to the entry of an order modifying the 2009 Order to include a broader range of relief, including a requirement to interdict (or block) the transfers of known fraudsters and provide refunds for non-compliance with certain policies or procedures.


    Financial Crimes DOJ FTC Anti-Money Laundering Settlement

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  • U.S. financial institution acknowledges investigations related to Malaysian development fund scheme

    Financial Crimes

    On November 2, a New York-based financial institution disclosed in its Form 10-Q filing that it had received subpoenas and requests for documents and information from multiple government agencies as part of investigations relating to matters involving a Malaysian development fund. The filing acknowledged the indictments and guilty plea of a former participating managing director of the financial institution, and a former managing director, which indicated that they “knowingly and willfully circumvented” the financial institution’s internal accounting controls.  The filing further stated that the financial institution is cooperating with the DOJ and other investigations relating to the company.

    For prior coverage of the scheme, please see here and here.

    Financial Crimes DOJ

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  • FFIEC issues joint statement on OFAC Cyber-Related Sanctions Program

    Financial Crimes

    On November 5, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) members issued a joint statement alerting financial institutions to the potential impact that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s (OFAC) recent actions under its Cyber-Related Sanctions Program may have on financial institutions’ risk management programs. OFAC implemented the Cyber-Related Sanctions Program in response to Executive Order 13694 to address individuals and entities that threaten national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the U.S. by malicious cyber-enabled activities. FFIEC’s press release announcing the joint statement references OFAC’s June action against five Russian entities and three Russian individuals who, through “malign and destabilizing cyber activities,” provided material and technological support to Russia’s Federal Security Service (previously covered by InfoBytes here), noting that these entities may offer services to financial institutions operating in the U.S.

    The joint statement reminds financial institutions to ensure that their compliance and risk management processes address possible interactions with an OFAC sanctioned entity. The statement notes that continued use of products or services from a sanctioned entity may cause the financial institution to violate the OFAC sanctions. Additionally, use of software or technical services from a sanctioned entity may increase a financial institution’s cybersecurity risk. The statement encourages financial institutions to take appropriate corrective action, as well as to ensure their third-party service providers comply with OFAC’s requirements.

    The OCC also released Bulletin 2018-40, which corresponds with the FFIEC’s joint statement.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions FFIEC OCC Russia International Third-Party Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security

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  • OFAC announces several actions related to the “snap-back” of sanctions on Iran, effective November 5

    Financial Crimes

    On November 5, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced several actions in conjunction with the full re-imposition of sanctions on Iran effective immediately. As previously covered by InfoBytes, President Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on May 8. Following the end of the wind-down period, which authorized certain activities through November 4, OFAC issued FAQs related to the “snap-back” of Iranian sanctions. OFAC also updated its Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list to add over 700 persons, including persons previously removed from the SDN list during the U.S.’s participation in the JCPOA and persons previously identified on the Executive Order 13599 list. OFAC additionally provided a technical notice containing details related to the SDN list changes.

    OFAC’s announcement also refers to an amendment effective November 5 to the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR), in connection with President Trump’s decision to cease U.S. participation in the JCPOA. The newly issued amendment reflects sanctions re-imposed by Executive Order 13846, as covered by InfoBytes here, in addition to changes to certain sanctions lists maintained by OFAC. OFAC also announced it is “amending an existing general license in the ITSR to authorize U.S. persons to sell personal property in Iran and transfer the proceeds to the [U.S.],” if the personal property was either: (i) acquired before the individual became a U.S. person; or (ii) inherited from persons in Iran.

    See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage on Iranian sanctions.

    Financial Crimes Department of Treasury OFAC Iran Sanctions Executive Order

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  • President Trump issues new Venezuela Executive Order targeting gold sector; OFAC publishes related FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On November 1, President Trump issued Executive Order 13850 (E.O. 13850) authorizing the imposition of sanctions on persons who operate in Venezuela's gold sector “or in any other sector of the Venezuelan economy as may be determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State.” The sanctions come in response to the actions of Venezuelan President Maduro’s regime and associated persons in allegedly “plunder[ing] Venezuela's wealth for their own corrupt purposes.” Among other things, the sanctions specifically block the acquisition or retention of property and interests in the United States by persons who “operate in the gold sector of the Venezuelan economy” or “have materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, any activity or transaction” involving deceptive practices or corruption in conjunction with the Venezuelan government.

    The same day, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) released a set of FAQs connected to the issuance of E.O. 13850, stating that it “expects to use its discretion to target in particular those who operate corruptly in the gold or other identified sectors of the Venezuela economy, and not those who are operating legitimately in such sectors.”

    E.O. 13850 is issued in conjunction with E.O.s 13692, 13808, 13827, and 13835. See here for continuing InfoBytes coverage of Venezuelan actions and E.O.s.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Executive Order Venezuela Sanctions Trump Department of Treasury

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