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The results are in: Party control of the U.S. House of Representatives will change for the third time in 12 years, leaving legions of pundits to speculate about what happens next. Prospects for a fundamental change in the way Congress and Washington operate are dim, particularly given that the U.S. Senate remains under Republican control. With new legislation most likely dead on arrival due to the political stalemate on Capitol Hill, the Democrats’ most reliable opportunity to exert their will is almost certainly through congressional oversight and investigations. The last time the Democrats controlled the House during a Republican presidency, following the 2006 midterms, Rep. Henry Waxman remarked that Congress’s oversight powers are “just as important, if not more important than legislation.”
While it is tempting to dismiss congressional oversight, and the attendant theatrical hearings and testimony as nothing but sound and fury, the reality for companies, executives, and others under the microscope is far less anodyne. Lack of preparation and ill-conceived strategy in responding to congressional investigations heightens the prospect of reputational harm that, unchecked, will frustrate business goals, damage shareholders, and derail — or end — careers.
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Click here to read the full special alert.
Please join us for a Dec. 5 webcast that will delve deeper into these topics and offer some thoughts on navigating the coming tide of congressional investigations. If you have questions about congressional investigations or other related issues, please visit our Congressional Investigations practice page, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
OFAC announces several actions related to the “snap-back” of sanctions on Iran, effective November 5
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.
President Trump issues new Venezuela Executive Order targeting gold sector; OFAC publishes related FAQs
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.”
On November 1, the Arizona Attorney General announced the approval of two more participants in the state’s fintech sandbox program. The first company, which is based in New York, will test a savings and credit product, enabling Arizona consumers to obtain a small line of credit aimed at providing overdraft protection. If a consumer agrees to a repayment plan recommended by the company’s proprietary technology, the APR may be as low at 12 percent; if a consumer adopts a different repayment plan, the line of credit will have a standard APR of 15.99 percent. The company intends to report transactions under the payment plan to national credit bureaus to enable the building of credit histories. The second company, an Arizona-based non-profit, will test a lending product using proprietary blockchain technology, which has an APR cap of 20 percent.
As previously covered by InfoBytes, the Arizona governor signed legislation in March creating the first state sandbox program for companies to test innovative financial products or services without certain regulatory requirements. In October, the Attorney General announced the first sandbox participant, a mobile platform company (InfoBytes coverage available here).
On November 2, the Federal Reserve Board (Board) finalized a new supervisory rating system for large financial institutions that is aligned to the core areas supporting qualifying institutions’ safety and soundness and is effective February 1, 2019. Supervisors will use the new rating system to assign confidential ratings for “all domestic bank holding companies and non-insurance, non-commercial savings and loan holding companies with $100 billion or more in total consolidated assets”—an increase from the $50 billion threshold proposed originally. The Board stated that the new rating system “will also apply to U.S. intermediate holding companies of foreign banking organizations with $50 billion or more in total consolidated assets.” The new rating system is designed to (i) better align with current Board supervisory programs and practices; (ii) “[e]nhance the clarity and consistency of supervisory assessments and communications of supervisory findings and implications”; and (iii) “provide transparency related to the supervisory consequences of a given rating.”
According to the Board, supervisors will continue to apply the existing rating system to bank holding companies with less than $100 billion in total consolidated assets, as well as to non-insurance, non-commercial savings and loan holding companies who do not meet the $100 billion total consolidated asset minimum threshold.
On October 30, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released Circular 26-18-25, which clarifies the effect on a veteran’s home loan entitlement when the VA pays a guaranty on a home loan terminated by foreclosure, short sale, or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. Specifically, for loans originated on or after January 1, 1990, the circular clarifies that the VA no longer establishes debts against veterans after the VA pays a guaranty to reimburse a servicer for its loss. However, if the veteran wants to reuse the VA home loan benefit, then he or she is required to reimburse the VA for the loss amount. The loss only affects the veteran’s entitlement under the VA Home Loan Guaranty program and does not impact any other VA benefits. The veteran may choose to repay the loss to restore the full entitlement or use any of the remaining entitlement amount that may be available to the veteran. The circular is effective until October 1, 2020.
On November 2, the DOJ announced a $95,000 settlement with a credit union resolving allegations that the credit union violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by repossessing vehicles owned by servicemembers without first obtaining the required court orders. According to the complaint, which was filed on the same day the settlement was announced, the DOJ launched an investigation into the credit union’s repossession practices after learning of two private complaints filed against the credit union for alleged SCRA violations. Through the investigation, the DOJ discovered additional violations and that the credit union did not have policies and procedures that addressed non-judicial auto repossessions against servicemembers until August 2014. Under the terms of the settlement, the credit union is required to pay $65,000 to compensate affected servicemembers and a civil money penalty of $30,000. In addition, the company must submit its employee SCRA training materials for approval and complete reporting, record-keeping, and monitoring requirements.
According to the U.K Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the former CEO and CFO of an oil and gas exploration and production company were sentenced in the UK on October 29 for their parts in a kickback scheme in Nigeria. The former CEO was sentenced to up to six years in prison, and the CFO to up to five years. The executives were found to have recommended that the company enter a $300 million deal with an oil field partner in Nigeria without telling the company’s board that they would personally receive 15 percent of the deal’s value from the partner. They then laundered more than $45 million, using some of the proceeds to buy luxury Caribbean real estate. The SFO thanked the U.S. DOJ for its assistance with the investigation.
The DOJ unsealed two indictments and a guilty plea related to the sprawling Malaysian development fund fraud on November 1 in the Eastern District of New York. A Malaysian financier and a former banker were charged with conspiring to launder billions of dollars embezzled from the investment development fund, and conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. The former banker was also charged with conspiring to violate the FCPA by circumventing the internal accounting controls of a U.S. financial institution, which underwrote $6 billion in bonds issued by the fund. He was a managing director at the bank. Another former banker at the same financial institution, pleaded guilty to the same charges. He has been ordered to forfeit $43.7 million.
These three and others allegedly conspired to bribe Malaysian and Abu Dhabi officials to obtain business for the financial institution, including the fund's bond deals. They also allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds through purchasing luxury New York real estate, artwork, and financing major Hollywood films, such as The Wolf of Wall Street.
For prior coverage of the fund's scheme, please see here.
On October 30, a Texas businessman, who was a former procurement officer for PDVSA, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to launder the bribe payments he and his co-conspirators at PDVSA received for directing PDVSA business to a Miami-based supplier. The scheme involved false invoices, false e-mail addresses, and shell companies with a Swiss bank account.
For prior coverage of the company's actions, please see here.
- Tina Tchen to deliver keynote address at the American Bar Association Professional Success Summit
- Jeffrey P. Naimon and Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Enforcement and litigation trends" at the American Bankers Association General Counsel Meeting
- Andrea K. Mitchell to discuss "Developments in fair lending law" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Summit on Diversity and Inclusion
- David S. Krakoff to discuss "The DOJ corporate enforcement policy and your disclosure calculus one year in: Are companies benefitting?" at the American Conference Institute International Conference on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss "Legal & regulatory issues" at the Opal Group Marketplace Lending & Alternative Financing Summit
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Hot topics in consumer financial services" at the Practising Law Institute Banking Law Institute
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "New CDD Rule: Pitfalls in compliance" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Daniel P. Stipano to discuss "Anti-money laundering/OFAC compliance" at the Institute of International Bankers U.S. Regulatory/Compliance Orientation Program