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  • OFAC Expands North Korean Sanctions

    Financial Crimes

    On November 21, the day after President Trump placed North Korea back on the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed additional sanctions in an action to “disrupt North Korea’s illicit funding of its unlawful nuclear and ballistic missile programs.” The sanctions were issued against one individual, 13 entities, and 20 vessels pursuant to Executive Order 13810 and Executive Order 13722. The sanctioned entities have commercial ties to North Korea or operate transportation networks in the country, and the sanctioned individuals are “involved in the exportation of workers from North Korea, including exportation to generate revenue for the Government of North Korea.” 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 “generally prohibited.” 

    See here for previous InfoBytes coverage on North Korean sanctions.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Sanctions International

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  • OFAC Announces Cuban Assets Control Regulations Updates; Releases New FAQs

    Financial Crimes

    On November 8, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations to implement changes related to certain financial transaction restrictions and economic activities. In accordance with the National Security Presidential Memorandum issued by President Trump on June 16, the amendments will, among other things, prohibit “persons subject to U.S. jurisdictions” from engaging in financial transactions with entities and subentities identified on the State Department’s Cuba Restricted List. This effort is intended to “channel economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services, while maintaining opportunities for Americans to engage in authorized travel to Cuba and support the private, small business sector in Cuba.” The amendments will take effect November 9. OFAC also released updated FAQs and a fact sheet to answer questions related to the amended regulations.

    Refer here, here, and here for InfoBytes coverage on OFAC settlements of alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.

    Financial Crimes OFAC Department of State Settlement International

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  • European Commission Releases First Annual E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield Review; Framework Works Well With Room for Improvement

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On October 18, the European Commission (Commission) released its first annual review of the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield (Privacy Shield) framework for transatlantic data transfers, citing the Privacy Shield “ensures an adequate level of protection for personal data,” but “there is some room for improving its implementation.” In the report, the Commission’s findings and conclusions cover topics including: (i) redress options for EU individuals; (ii) complaint handling and enforcement procedures to “safeguard individual rights”; (iii) cooperation with European Data protection authorities; and (iv) the process for  certifying companies under the Privacy Shield. However, the report also makes recommendations for improvement, such as (i) increasing U.S. oversight into whether U.S. companies are complying with the Privacy Shield’s requirements to protect European’s personal data; (ii) conducting regular reviews to ensure companies are not making false claims about their participation in the Privacy Shield; and (iii) establishing a closer means of communication between “privacy enforcers” to develop guidance.

    Acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen commented on the Commission’s review: “Enforcing international privacy frameworks such as Privacy Shield is an integral part of our Privacy and Data Security program, as highlighted in three recently announced Privacy Shield enforcement actions. We look forward to continuing to work with our European counterparts to ensure that the Privacy Shield remains a robust mechanism for protecting privacy and enabling transatlantic data flows.” (See InfoBytes coverage of the three FTC enforcement actions here, and refer here for previous InfoBytes coverage of the Privacy Shield.)

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security FTC Enforcement International

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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

    FinTech

    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

    Courts

    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

    Securities

    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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