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  • Swedish Telecom Company to Pay $965 Million to DOJ and SEC to Settle Bribery Claims

    Financial Crimes

    On September 21, a Swedish telecom company agreed to pay $965 million as a result of criminal and civil actions brought by the DOJ and SEC charging the company with paying bribes to an Uzbek government official from 2007 to 2010. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ that required the company to pay a $548.6 million criminal penalty for violating the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA, $274 million of which will be paid to the Swedish Prosecution Authority and credited by the DOJ. $40 million of the total criminal penalty consisted of forfeiture by the company on behalf of its indirect subsidiary. According to the criminal information, around 2007, the company began operating a mobile telecommunications business in Uzbekistan through the subsidiary, and the companies allegedly then conspired to make approximately $331 million in bribes to an Uzbek government official to expand their share of the telecommunications market. 

    On the same day, the SEC issued a cease-and-desist order finding that the company violated the anti-bribery and internal accounting controls provisions of the FCPA and ordering the company to disgorge $457 million in illicit profits (but also agreeing to credit up to half that amount if disgorged to the Swedish Prosecution Authority). The SEC found that over the relevant time period, the company “paid bribes to a government official in Uzbekistan in order to obtain and retain business that generated more than $2.5 billion in revenues.” It found that the company paid the Uzbek official $330 million in bribes “funneled through payments for sham lobbying and consulting services to a front company controlled by the official.” The SEC agreed that the $40 million forfeiture to the DOJ would also offset.

    Financial Crimes DOJ SEC Bribery FCPA

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  • FinCEN Issues Advisory Regarding Venezuelan Government

    Financial Crimes

    On September 20, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an advisory to financial institutions to warn of public corruption and money laundering related to Venezuelan government agencies and bodies. The advisory lists several red flags specific to the Venezuelan government to assist financial institutions with identifying and reporting suspicious activity to FinCEN, including, among other things, payments for government contracts made to personal accounts or to companies in a different line of business, payments made from shell corporations, and certain real estate purchases by Venezuelan government officials, primarily in south Florida and Houston, Texas.

    As previously reported in InfoBytes, sanctions have recently been imposed on several Venezuelan political figures. (See previous InfoBytes coverage here and here.)

    Financial Crimes FinCEN Treasury Department Sanctions

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  • SEC Chairman Releases Statement Discussing Internal Cybersecurity Assessment, Announces EDGAR Vulnerability May Have Led to Illicit Gain

    Privacy, Cyber Risk & Data Security

    On September 20, the SEC released a statement issued by Chairman Jay Clayton regarding the Commission’s approach to cybersecurity and its impact on market participants. Topics discussed in the statement, which is part of the SEC’s ongoing assessment of its cybersecurity risk profile, include:

    • the collection and use of data by the SEC;
    • the management of, and responses to, internal cybersecurity risks;
    •  the integration and incorporation of cybersecurity considerations into the SEC’s supervision of regulated entities;
    • coordinated efforts with other regulations to identify and mitigate risk; and
    • oversight and enforcement efforts related to cybersecurity activities.

    The Chairman also discussed the SEC’s discovery in August that a 2016 security incident involving a software vulnerability within the Commission’s EDGAR system “may have provided the basis for illicit gain through trading” by providing access to nonpublic information. However, the SEC also stated its belief that “the intrusion did not result in the unauthorized access to personally identifiable information, jeopardize the operations of the Commission, or result in systemic risk.” According to the SEC, the vulnerability was patched promptly after discovery, and the SEC commenced an internal investigation, which is ongoing.

    Chairman Clayton is scheduled to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on September 26 at a hearing titled, “Oversight of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.”

    Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security SEC Senate Banking Committee EDGAR Data Breach

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  • District Court Fines Mortgage Brokers More Than $298 Million for Alleged FCA/FIRREA Violations

    Courts

    On September 14, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas ruled after a five-week jury trial that defendants, who allegedly submitted fraudulent insurance claims after acquiring risky loans, were liable for treble damages and the maximum civil penalties allowed under the False Claims Act (FCA) and the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). According to the court, the evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the damages suffered by the U.S. were a “foreseeable consequence” of the defendants’ misconduct and that such misconduct was part of an “prolonged, consistent enterprise of defrauding the [U.S.],” warranting a higher level of penalties. The jury found that one of the defendants along with its CEO “submitted or caused to be submitted 103 insurance claims” while misrepresenting that its branches were registered by HUD, causing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to sustain damages in excess of $7 million. A separate mortgage broker defendant was found to have submitted or caused to be submitted 1,192 insurance claims causing over $256 million in damages to the FHA due to the “reckless” underwriting of loan applications, in violation of FCA. The court rejected the defendants’ request for lenient civil penalties, finding the defendants’ behavior to be “custom-designed to flout the very program that relied upon [defendants’] diligence and compliance” and demonstrating “a patent unwillingness to accept responsibility for their actions.” The FIRREA penalties resulted from defendants submitting false annual certifications to HUD that were intended “to serve as a separate and independent quality check on the [defendant’s] branches,” but instead led to injury in the form of borrowers entering into default or foreclosures, as well as elevated mortgage insurance premiums.

    The judge imposed over $291 million in FCA treble damages and penalties against the three defendants. Additionally, each defendant was fined $2.2 million in FIRREA penalties for actions that “were neither isolated or relatively benign . . . [but] were reckless, egregious, and widely injurious.”

    Courts Lending Mortgages False Claims Act / FIRREA Litigation Insurance FHA HUD

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  • Directors Plead Guilty in U.K. to Angola Bribe Scheme

    Financial Crimes

    On September 15, a logistics and shipping company, and six of its current and former directors pleaded guilty in the U.K. to charges of conspiracy to pay bribes in Angola. The trial against a seventh man charged in the conspiracy started this week in London. The U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office charged the company and the seven individuals last year with allegedly paying bribes when the company was seeking to obtain freight forwarding services contracts with the Angolan state oil company between January 2005 and December 2006.

    Financial Crimes UK Serious Fraud Office

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  • Brazilian Petrochemical Company Reaches $10 Million Settlement With Investors

    Financial Crimes

    On September 14, a Brazilian petrochemical company, agreed to pay its U.S. investors $10 million for concealing its role in a corruption scandal involving a Brazilian multinational corporation in the petroleum industry. The settlement resolves a 2015 lawsuit brought by U.S. investors against the petrochemical company, which alleged the company had misled investors into believing its operations were legitimate. The settlement follows the December 2016 guilty plea by the company and its affiliated construction firm to violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Together, the companies agreed to pay $3.5 billion in a combined global settlement with U.S., Brazilian, and Swiss authorities.

    Financial Crimes FCPA Anti-Corruption Braskem SA Petrobras Brazil Switzerland

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  • CFPB Clarifies Remittance Transfer Rule Compliance

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, the CFPB recently released its summer 2017 Supervisory Highlights (Highlights) outlining its supervisory progress this year. Included among the issues highlighted by the Bureau is its recent activity in the remittance transfer rule (RTR) space under Regulation E. The Highlights indicate that the CFPB intends to continue its focus on RTR compliance at both large and small institutions. Of particular note, the Bureau—for the first time—has provided informal guidance on international mobile top-up products for telephone airtime. Prior to the Highlights, it was unclear to what extent these products were subject to the RTR. The Highlights confirm that the CFPB will take the position that these products fall within the scope of the rule and has taken supervisory action against at least one institution for that institution’s failure to treat international mobile top-ups in excess of $15 as remittance transfers subject to the RTR.

    This edition of the Highlights helps to clear up prior confusion around the industry regarding international mobile top-ups and bill pay products, as discussed in a recent article.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance CFPB Remittance Remittance Transfer Rule Regulation E Mobile Top-Ups Compliance

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  • Second Circuit Cites Spokeo, Rules No Standing to Sue for Violation of FACTA

    Courts

    On September 19, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion ruling that a merchant who had printed the first six numbers of a consumer’s credit card on a receipt violated the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA), but that because the violation did not cause a concrete injury, the consumer did not have standing to sue the merchant. Under FACTA, merchants are prohibited from including more than the final five digits of a consumer’s credit card number on a receipt. In this instance, the plaintiff filed a complaint in 2014, followed by an amended complaint later that same year, in which he alleged that he twice received printed receipts containing the first six digits of his credit card number, in violation of FACTA. The plaintiff claimed that the risk of identity theft was a sufficient injury to establish standing. The defendants argued that that the first six digits of the credit card account only identified the card issuer and did not reveal any information about the consumer, which did not “raise a material risk of identity theft.” Citing a Supreme Court ruling in Spokeo v. Robins, the district court opined that a procedural violation of a statute is not enough to allow a consumer to sue, because it must be shown that the violation caused, or at least created a material risk of, harm to the consumer—which, in this case, was not present. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but found that the district court erred in dismissing the suit with prejudice.

    Courts Litigation FACTA Second Circuit U.S. Supreme Court

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  • House Financial Services Committee Issues Second Interim Report on Bureau’s Role in Fraudulent Accounts Scandal Investigation

    Federal Issues

    On September 19, the Majority Committee Staff of the House Financial Services Committee (Committee) released a second interim report and supporting documents on the investigation of the role the CFPB played in detecting and remedying a major national bank’s practice of opening unauthorized bank accounts. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the first interim report, issued June 6, accused Director Richard Cordray, among other things, of failing to cooperate with the Committee’s “comprehensive investigation.” The second interim report claims the CFPB and Director Cordray failed to comply with the Committee’s repeated requests for documents related to the investigation into the bank’s practices, never conducted its own independent investigation (but, instead, “relied primarily, if not exclusively,” on a third party report), and withheld a crucial Recommendation Memorandum from the Committee for over a year that disclosed analysis of the legal and factual components of the Bureau’s investigation, as well as an evaluation of whether to enter into a settlement. The Committee’s accusations also include claims that Director Cordray allegedly misled Congress about the agency's investigation into the bank’s illegal sales practices and may have “rushed” a settlement with the bank, which resulted in a $100 million fine when it was potentially liable for a statutory civil monetary penalty exceeding $10 billion. Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) said in a press release that “[t]he premature suspension of its investigation means that the CFPB also potentially lost the opportunity to discover recently revealed instances of further consumer harm.”

    Federal Issues CFPB House Financial Services Committee Settlement Enforcement Fraud Investigations

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  • CFPB Files Complaint Against Company that Allegedly Made False Loan Offers

    Consumer Finance

    On September 19, the CFPB announced it had filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against a New Jersey-based company and two associated individuals (defendants) that allegedly offered loans to consumers who were awaiting payouts from legal settlements or statutory- or victim-compensation funds. According to the complaint, the company engaged in deceptive acts and practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act by purportedly representing itself as a direct lender, when in actuality it did not provide loans to consumers, but instead brokered transactions while charging a commission for the service. Among other things, the defendants allegedly (i) misrepresented the annual percentage rates (APR) on the advances given to consumers, often representing that interest rates were as small as one to two percent when the actual APR was much higher; (ii) falsely claimed that it had offices in all 50 states and employed a staff of accounting, financial, and legal professionals; and (iii) misled consumers by stating in their marketing materials that consumers could receive loan proceeds within one hour, when the process took longer.

    According to the proposed final judgment and order, which must be approved by the district court, the defendants shall be banned from offering these types of loans or advances to consumers in the future. In addition, the company and the owner—who was responsible for decision-making and operations—are jointly liable for a $60,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The second individual—who was responsible for recruiting consumers through marketing materials and websites—must pay a $10,000 civil money penalty to the CFPB. The Bureau noted in the announcement that the low penalties take into account the defendants’ inability to pay greater amounts.

    Consumer Finance CFPB Enforcement Lending UDAAP CFPA

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