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  • Florida Energy Company Owner Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Violate the FCPA in Venezuelan Bribery Scheme

    Financial Crimes

    On October 11, the DOJ announced that the co-owner of several Florida-based energy companies pleaded guilty to FCPA charges that he conspired to bribe foreign officials in exchange for obtaining contracts from a Venezuela’s state-owned energy company. In his plea, the defendant admitted to conspiring with two other individuals from 2008 through 2014 to bribe purchasing analysts employed by the energy company through cash payments and other entertainment in order to win contracts for their companies. In total, ten individuals have now pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme.    

    This investigation has been a collaboration between the DOJ, ICE-HSI, and IRS-Criminal Investigation Division. Previous FCPA Scorecard coverage of the investigation can be found here.

    Financial Crimes DOJ FCPA Bribery International

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  • Russia Weighs Risks of Cryptocurrencies; President Putin Seeks Regulations


    On October 10, the First Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank reportedly announced plans to block websites selling bitcoin and other forms of cryptocurrency. Citing unreasonably high risks and the need to protect investors from the “dubious” currencies, the Central Bank’s concerns were echoed by President Vladimir Putin who reportedly stressed that risks associated with the use of cryptocurrencies include money laundering, tax evasion and funding for terrorism. However, President Putin issued a call for cryptocurrency regulation rather than a broad ban and stressed the need to utilize international experience when establishing rules.

    Last September, as previously reported in InfoBytes, several Chinese regulators reportedly announced plans to ban the commercial trading of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in the country.

    Fintech Bitcoin Cryptocurrency International

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  • District Court Grants $30 Million Settlement in Payday Lending Securities Class Action Suit


    On September 20, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a memorandum signing off on a settlement between a payday lender and a class of institutional investors, resolving allegations that the lender violated securities laws when it made “materially false and misleading statements” about its financial health and the nature of its U.K. lending practices. According to the plaintiffs, the lender’s misstatements artificially inflated the common stock during the class period (January 28, 2011 through February 3, 2014), so that when the lending practices were revealed, the stock prices declined. Further, the lender allegedly (i) “routinely lent to borrowers without conducting any affordability checks”; (ii) “permitted borrowers to roll over loans that [they] could not afford to repay, enriching [the lender] with fees”; and (iii) presented “loan loss reserves [that] were understated as a result of its poor lending practices, its failure to adequately monitor the quality of its loans, and its failure to properly account for loans that were rolled over.” In 2016, the court granted class certification and the parties reached a settlement after extensive discussions. The final settlement approved in the memorandum creates a settlement fund of $30 million, of which $7.5 million will go towards attorneys’ fees and costs. The court signed a judgment approving the class action settlement the same day.

    Courts Payday Lending Securities Settlement Litigation International

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  • China Bans Commercial Trading of Initial Coin Offerings


    On September 4, the People’s Bank of China and several Chinese regulators reportedly jointly announced plans to ban the commercial trading of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This measure, announced in a statement issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People’s Republic of China, will outlaw all fundraising Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), and declares ICOs and the sale of virtual currency as unauthorized illegal financing behavior, suspected of illegal sale tokens, illegal securities issuance, and illegal fund-raising, including financial fraud, pyramid schemes and other criminal activities. The statement reportedly stresses that virtual currency in China will not be recognized as a legal form of currency and must not be circulated as currency when financing activities. Furthermore, going forward, all cryptocurrency trading platforms are prohibited in China from acting as central counterparties to facilitate the exchange of tokens for virtual currencies. Additionally, one of China’s bitcoin exchanges reportedly published an announcement on its website saying it will close its bitcoin currency trading platform in the country on September 30.

    The SEC recently released an investor bulletin about ICO investment risks and offered fraud prevention guidance. (See previous InfoBytes summary here.) ICO sales are often used to raise capital, and the SEC is monitoring companies who use this method for fraudulent purposes.

    Securities Fintech Initial Coin Offerings International Cryptocurrency Bitcoin Fraud Virtual Currency

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  • Justice Department Official Stresses International Cooperation in FCPA Enforcement

    Financial Crimes

    In a recent speech before the Atlantic Council Inter-American Dialogue Event, Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco discussed the importance of foreign law enforcement cooperation in FCPA investigations. Blanco focused his remarks on cooperation between the United States and Brazil and also touched on the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. 

    Blanco noted: “As transnational crime continues to grow in scope and complexity, we increasingly find ourselves looking across the globe to collect evidence and identify witnesses necessary to build cases, requiring greater and closer collaboration with our foreign counterparts. As a result, we find ourselves relying more and more on the use of the various mechanisms of international cooperation with our foreign partners that permit for evidence exchange, fugitive apprehension, and asset recovery.” 

    Blanco’s remarks highlight the DOJ’s continued focus on international and transnational conduct with the cooperation of foreign law enforcement agencies. He concluded: “We at the Department of Justice will continue, like we have for years, pushing forward hard against corruption, wherever it is, and we welcome our fellow counterparts around the world who are fighting this important fight against corruption.”

    Financial Crimes FCPA Corruption DOJ International

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  • IMF Releases Policy Paper Addressing Recent Trends and Considerations in Correspondent Banking Relationships

    Federal Issues

    On April 21, the International Monetary Fund (the Fund) announced the release of its policy paper addressing recent trends in correspondent banking relationships (CBRs). According to the Fund, CBRs are facing pressure in some countries as cross-border flows are “concentrated through fewer CBRs or maintained through alternative arrangements.” Decisions made by global banks to terminate CBRs often result from a lack of confidence in the respondent bank’s ability to manage risk. Notably, recent changes in regulatory and enforcement requirements—addressing economic and trade sanctions, Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) guidelines, and tax transparency standards—have contributed to this problem. The Fund notes that these “financial fragilities” resulting from the terminations have the potential to increase financial services costs and negatively affect bank ratings—thus creating long-term effects on growth. The paper highlights the Fund’s plan to address withdrawal concerns and the resulting implications, including:

    • establishing measures to enhance respondent banks’ capacity for risk management;
    • strengthening and effectively implementing regulatory and supervisory frameworks, particularly with respect to AML/CFT;
    • improving communication between correspondent and respondent banks;
    • removing impediments to information sharing between correspondent and respondent banks; and
    • understanding the “feasibility of temporary mechanisms, including public-backed vehicles, to provide payment clearing services” in the event all CBRs are withdrawn from a country.

    The Fund also notes collaboration efforts with the Financial Stability Board, World Bank, G20, Financial Action Task Force, Arab Monetary Fund, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures, among others, to “ensure financial stability and promote financial inclusion.”

    Federal Issues Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism Correspondent Banking International

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  • OFAC Sanctions a Coal Company and 11 “Agents” Linked to North Korea’s WMD Proliferation and Financial Networks

    Financial Crimes

    On March 31, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that it was imposing sanctions on eleven North Koreans and one associated entity involved in that country’s efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. The sanctions prohibit any U.S. individual from dealing with the designated North Koreans, and further states that “any property or interests in property of the designated persons in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States must be blocked.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin explained that the “sanctions are aimed at disrupting the networks and methods that the Government of North Korea employs to fund its unlawful nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs.”

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions International

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  • International Trade Organizations Release “Trade Finance Principles”; Quarterly Analysis of Global Financial Market

    Financial Crimes

    On January 24, the Banking Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC”) and the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (“BAFT”) jointly announced the publication of The Wolfsberg Group, ICC and BAFT Trade Finance Principles (“Trade Finance Principles”),  a replacement to the 2011 Wolfsberg Group Trade Finance Principles paper, which now addresses “due diligence required by global and regional financial institutions of all sizes in the financing of international trade.”  The Trade Finance Principles outline the standard for controlling the risks of financial crime, including but not limited to “tax evasion, fraud, human trafficking, bribery and corruption, terrorist financing, the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.” In addition, the Trade Finance Principles require the management processes undertaken by financial institutions to “address the risks of financial crime associated with Trade Finance activities.”

    Separately, on March 6, the Bank for International Settlements released its Quarterly Review—an analysis that examines current global financial market trends and the uncertainty regarding potential fiscal and monetary policy changes in the changing political environment.

    Financial Crimes BAFT Bank for International Settlements International

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  • BAFT Issues Comments on Proposed AML/CFT Guidance Revisions

    Financial Crimes

    On February 22, the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade (BAFT), an international financial services association for organizations engaged in international transaction banking, together with the Institute of International Finance (IIF) issued a letter to the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (BCBS) with comments on BCBS’ proposed revisions to its risk management guidance related to anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing. In the letter, BAFT and IFF note that, while both associations are “particularly pleased with [BCBS’] recognition that not all correspondent banking relationships bear the same level of risk and [BCBS’] acknowledgment of the difference between inherent and residual risk,” they do summarize several areas where enhancements would assist with the “general usefulness” of the final guidance:

    • BCBS should “design guidance that explicitly permits a correspondent bank to rely upon appropriate utilities for the vast majority of cases rather than simply permitting a correspondent bank to use a utility as another source of information supporting the due diligence process” with the purpose of “establishing international standards or sound practices for such utilities to create greater assurance of achieving official ALM/CFT goals.”
    • BCBS should adopt “regulatory practices [that] include standards for ‘verification’ that national authorities could administer or supervise.”

    The “[s]tandardization of information requirements (or templates) for utilities could also be extended to include [the] international standardization of basic due diligence information and ‘enhanced due diligence’ information for higher-risk relationships.” A “basic standardization would give both parties a ground of expectations to build upon in making judgments about how to do business. It could [also] eliminate a degree of unnecessary duplication of effort and costs.”

    Financial Crimes Agency Rule-Making & Guidance International BAFT BCBS IIF Risk Management Anti-Money Laundering Combating the Financing of Terrorism

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  • DOJ Declines FCPA Action Against Oil Company

    Federal Issues

    Houston-based oil company announced in a February 9, 2017 press release that the DOJ had formally closed its FCPA investigation into the company’s oil exploration operations in Angola and would not prosecute the company. The press release noted that the DOJ’s investigation “was the last remaining FCPA investigation by any U.S. regulatory agency into [the company’s Angolan operations.” The DOJ’s declination letter came more than two years after the SEC closed its own FCPA investigation and declined to bring an enforcement action.

    As detailed in a previous FCPA Scorecard post, the parallel investigations began in 2011, and were prompted by allegations concerning the connection between senior Angolan government officials and a local partner in the company-led deepwater oil venture. According to the company’s 10-K filing for FY 2012, the company had voluntarily contacted the DOJ when the SEC launched its initial inquiry and “offered to respond to any requests the DOJ may have.”

    Federal Issues FCPA International SEC DOJ

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