Financial Action Task Force Issues Guidance Urging Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Currencies and Services

On June 29, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issued a report, Guidance for a Risk-Based Approach to Virtual Currencies,part of a staged approach focusing on the points of intersection that provide gateways to the regulated financial system, in particular, convertible virtual currency exchangers.  The Guidance explains the application of the risk-based approach to AML/CFT measures in the virtual currency context, identify the entities involved in virtual currency payment products and services (VCPPS), and clarify the application of the relevant FATF Recommendations to convertible virtual currency exchangers.  The guidance provides, among other things, recommendations and encourages member nations to adopt regulations and guidelines similar to those applicable to traditional financial institutions to reduce risk exposure to the banking system.

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DOJ Seeks Civil Forfeiture of $34 Million in Bribe Payments Made to Chadian Diplomats by Griffiths Energy

On June 30, the DOJ filed a Complaint to forfeit shares of Griffiths Energy International, a Canadian energy company accused of bribing various Republic of Chad diplomats to receive oil development rights in Chad.  The diplomats include the former Chadian Ambassador to the United States and Canada, and Chad’s Deputy Chief of Mission to the United States.  The assets at issue are currently frozen in the U.K.

The DOJ is seeking roughly $34 million in Griffiths Energy shares, as the cash value amount “traceable to, and involved in the laundering of, bribe payments made to the Chadian diplomats” for the rights to develop oil blocks in Chad. According to the Complaint, the former Ambassador, serving from 2004 to 2012, and the Deputy Chief of Mission, serving from approximately 2007 through the end of 2014, used their official positions to assist Griffiths Energy in securing development rights to oil blocks in Chad. The bribes were allegedly paid in several ways, including through issuance of company shares and payments to companies nominally owned by the wives and associates of the diplomats.  The Complaint highlighted that before the company pursued the shell company avenue, legal counsel had warned the company that a planned consulting agreement directly with the Ambassador was illegal.  This Complaint follows a separate suit by the DOJ in 2014, with sought a “civil forfeiture of over $100,000 in allegedly laundered funds traceable to the $2 million bribe payments.”

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Alleged Ringleader of Global Cybercrimes Extradited to United States to Face Charges

Today, the DOJ unsealed an eighteen-count indictment in Brooklyn, New York charging a Turkish citizen (Defendant) with organizing worldwide cyberattacks against at least three U.S. payment processors’ computer networks. The Defendant’s organization allegedly used “sophisticated intrusion techniques” to hack the computer systems, stealing prepaid debit card data and subsequently using the stolen data to make ATM withdrawals in which standard withdrawal limits were manipulated to allow for greater withdrawals. According to the indictment, the Defendant managed a group of co-conspirators responsible for distributing the stolen card information to “cashing crews” around the world, who then used the information to conduct tens of thousands of fraudulent ATM withdrawals and fraudulent purchases. Within two days – February 27 and 28, 2011 – the DOJ alleges that the “cashing crews withdrew approximately $10 million through approximately 15,000 fraudulent ATM withdrawals in at least 18 countries.” The remaining two operations, occurring in late 2012 and early 2013, resulted in ATM withdrawals of roughly $5 million and $40 million, respectively. The Defendant, along with other high-ranking members of the conspiracy, received the funds from the fraudulent operations via wire transfer, electronic currency, and personal delivery of U.S. and foreign currency. The Defendant was arrested in Germany on December 18, 2013, and was extradited to the United States on June 23, 2015. The charges against the Defendant follow previous charges against members of the conspiracy, including the arrest of a member of the New York cashing crew.

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FIFA Investigation Updates: Plea Agreement with American FIFA Official Unsealed

On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York unsealed a 2013 plea agreement under which American FIFA Executive Committee Member Chuck Blazer secretly pleaded guilty to ten charges related to corruption in the soccer organization. Mr. Blazer agreed to forfeit more than $1.9 million, and to pay back-taxes and penalties on more than $11 million in unreported income.

According to the plea agreement, Mr. Blazer began cooperating with the DOJ’s investigation in December of 2011, even agreeing to work undercover making secret recordings. The unsealing of the plea agreement is the latest development in the ongoing fallout from the racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering indictments announced three weeks ago by the DOJ against soccer executives at FIFA and others tied to the organization. Mr. Blazer’s testimony at his plea hearing in November 2013 was unsealed two weeks ago.

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European Union Reaches Agreement Regarding New Data Protection Law

On June 15, the 28 governments of the European Union agreed to a draft Data Protection Regulation that would establish tighter privacy provisions for users of online services – including those provided by U.S. tech companies – in a majority of European countries. The draft Regulation advances a single set of data protection rules for the EU, which include data breach notification obligations, within 24 hours if feasible, a strengthened “right to be forgotten,” and additional enforcement power for Europe’s data protection authorities, including penalties of up to €1 million or up to 2% of global annual turnover of a company. While EU Commissioners say the proposed law would cut costs for businesses, critics argue that its provision requiring data processors to delete individuals’ personal data upon request would inevitably increase costs for European-based internet companies. For the past three and a half years, the EU has tried to reach an agreement to merge the countries’ rules on personal data protection into one set of regulations. If this most recent proposal passes the next phase of European Parliament negotiations, the law will have a 2016 effective date, with a two year transitional period for companies and data protection authorities to adapt to the new regulations.

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Eletrobras Hires U.S. Law Firm to Conduct FCPA Investigation

On June 10, Eletrobras, Brazil’s state-run power company, announced that it had hired Hogan Lovells to investigate potential violations of the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws and corporate policies. The focus of the investigation will be “projects in which Eletrobras Companies take part in a corporate form or as minority shareholder, through special purpose entities.” According to an earlier Eletrobras filing, the investigation was triggered by testimony taken in conjunction with the Brazilian government’s ongoing investigation of corruption allegations against Petrobras, dubbed “Operation Car Wash.” That testimony alleged that the CEO of an Eletrobras subsidiary received illicit payments from a consortium of companies bidding for the Angra 3 power plant project.

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U.S. Announces Final Decision to Rescind Cuba’s Designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism

On May 29, the Secretary of State announced his final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, effective immediately. The removal of Cuba’s designation followed the Department of State’s comprehensive review of Cuba’s record and the end of a 45-day Congressional pre-notification period after the President certified in an April 14 report to Congress that (i) Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding 6-month period; and (ii) the Cuban government has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.

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FIFA Investigation Updates: President Resigns Amidst Corruption Probe; Interpol Issues Red Notices For Six

On June 2, continuing the fallout from the racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering indictments announced last week by DOJ against soccer executives at FIFA and others tied to the organization, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his resignation, less than a week after being re-elected to lead soccer’s governing body.  It has been reported that Mr. Blatter is the focus of the same federal corruption investigation. Blatter’s announcement was a reversal from his remarks after winning re-election, stating then “Why would I step down?  … That would mean I recognize that I did wrong.”

One day after Blatter’s announcement, Interpol issued Red Notices for six individuals linked to the FIFA corruption investigation, including for two former FIFA officials. The two former FIFA executives, Jack Warner, a Trinidad & Tobago national and former FIFA vice president and executive committee member, and Nicolás Leoz, a Paraguayan national and former FIFA executive committee member, have been arrested in their home countries. The other four Red Notices, which alert Interpol’s member nations that arrest warrants have been issued by a judicial authority (here, the United States) and seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition, were issued for four South American nationals and corporate executives.

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Three Acquitted In UK Trial For Alleged Nigerian Corruption

On May 27, a London jury found three employees of Swift Technical Solutions Ltd (Swift) not guilty of corruption charges in connection with alleged corrupt payments to tax officials in Nigeria.  The SFO announced the verdict on June 2.  As to one defendant, the jury was unable to reach a verdict on one count and was discharged; the SFO informed the Southwark Crown Court that it would not seek to retry that defendant on that count and the court entered a verdict of not guilty.

The SFO brought the corruption charges in late 2012 after  a two-year investigation related to the tax affairs of a Swift Nigerian subsidiary. The SFO alleged that the Swift employees paid bribes totaling approximately £180,000 in 2008 and 2009 to Nigerian tax officials to avoid, reduce, or delay paying tax on behalf of workers placed by Swift.  The alleged bribes occurred before the enactment of the U.K. Bribery Act and allegedly went to agents of two Nigerian Boards of Internal Revenue – the Rivers State Board of Internal Revenue and the Lagos State Board of Internal Revenue.  The SFO did not charge Swift with any criminal offense, citing its cooperation with the agency.

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DOJ Indicts 14 In Global FIFA Corruption Crackdown, Announces 6 Guilty Pleas

The DOJ on May 27 unveiled indictments in one of the most sprawling, long-running alleged corruption rings in recent decades, charging nine executives of FIFA or related soccer governing bodies, as well as five sports marketing or broadcast executives, with racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering.  The defendants were charged with offering and accepting over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks over a 24-year period related to the media and marketing rights for soccer tournaments.  In addition, the DOJ unsealed guilty pleas previously entered by four individual and two corporate defendants.

Seven of the defendants were arrested in Switzerland as a result of U.S. arrest warrants, pending extradition, continuing the trend of international cooperation between U.S. and foreign anti-corruption enforcement agencies.  Continuing a different trend, one of the individuals who pleaded guilty was a former FIFA executive who acted as an informer for the DOJ, including by taping key conversations.

While the indictment mainly concerned media and marketing rights, at least one reference was made to alleged bribes related to voting for World Cup host countries, and the Swiss government announced an inquiry into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.  Additional charges appear likely to be brought in the future, whether by the U.S. or other jurisdictions.  The U.S.’s jurisdiction to bring the charges is also likely to be challenged.

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Oil and Gas Company with Republic of Guinea Operations Announces Conclusion of DOJ Investigation

Houston-based Hyperdynamics Corp. announced in an 8-K filed on May 26 that the DOJ had closed its investigation into alleged FCPA violations by the company in the Republic of Guinea.  A parallel investigation by the SEC remains ongoing.  The DOJ investigation was originally disclosed by the company in 2013, and was stated to relate to concession rights and relationships with charitable organizations.

The investigation and declination raise two notable issues.  First, the investigation into relationships with charitable organizations continues the government’s focus on the potential use of charitable organizations to influence acts of foreign officials.  Second, the declination letter from the DOJ to Hyperdynamics was released by the company and noted its “cooperation with investigations,” including through providing information and the results of the company’s internal investigation to the government, as well as how much the DOJ values cooperation.  Recent speeches by the DOJ have sought to reassure companies that extensive cooperation can theoretically result in a declination.

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Brazilian Aircraft Maker in Negotiations to Resolve FCPA Violations

According to its May 19 securities filing, a Brazilian manufacturer of commercial jets has entered into discussions with the DOJ to resolve an FCPA probe launched by the Department in 2010. The government’s investigation stems from allegations that the manufacturer’s sales executives bribed various Dominican individuals who, in exchange, influenced legislators in the Dominican Republic to approve a $92 million contract and financing agreement for aircraft. In its filing, the company stated that a resolution of the investigation would result in fines and other sanctions by the DOJ. The Brazilian government’s criminal case against the manufacturer’s eight sales executives is ongoing.

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SEC Imposes $25 Million Penalty for FCPA Violations at 2008 Summer Olympics

On May 20, the SEC announced that it had instituted and settled administrative proceedings against a global resources company to resolve alleged FCPA violations during the 2008 Summer Olympics. According to the SEC’s administrative order, the company invited over 175 government officials and employees of state-owned enterprises, many from countries in Africa and Asia with a “well-known history of corruption,” to attend the Games at its expense. Those who accepted were provided with “hospitality packages” that included event tickets, luxury hotel accommodations, meals and, in many cases, business class airfare. Even though the company was aware that providing high-end hospitality packages to government officials created a heightened risk of violating anti-corruption laws, its internal controls were “insufficient” because there was no independent legal or compliance review of the invited guests or enhanced training of employees regarding the corruption risks. Read more…

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OFAC Publishes Guidance Regarding Travel Between U.S. and Cuba, Releases Updated FAQs Regarding Cuba-Related Sanctions

On May 5, OFAC issued new Guidance Regarding Travel Between the U.S. and Cuba, which provides information on the types of individuals and cargo that can be transported between the U.S. and Cuba by a licensed air carrier or commercial passenger vessel. With respect to individuals, the guidance addressed persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction, Cuban nationals, and other individuals, including foreign nationals, travelling on official government business.  The guidance regarding cargo addressed, among other things, alcohol and tobacco products.  In a separate announcement released on April 16 (and later updated on May 5), OFAC issued new and updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) related to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The updated FAQs follow a January 15 announcement in which OFAC issued a final rule amending the CACR to reflect policy changes previously announced by President Obama in 2014.

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DOJ and International Investment Bank Enter Into Plea Agreement to Resolve LIBOR Manipulation Claims, Bank Agrees to Pay $2.5 Billion Penalty

On April 23, the DOJ announced that an international investment bank and its subsidiary agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud for its alleged conduct, spanning from 2003 through 2011, in manipulating the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), which is used to set interest rates on various financial products. In addition, the DOJ announced that the bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement to resolve wire fraud and antitrust claims for manipulating both the U.S. Dollar LIBOR and Yen LIBOR. Under terms of the agreement, the $2.5 billion in penalties will be divided among U.S. and U.K. authorities – $800 million to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $775 million to the DOJ, $600 million to the New York Department Financial Services, and roughly $340 million to the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority. The authorities also ordered the bank to install an independent compliance monitor.

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