On July 14, OFAC released a statement regarding the agreement reached with Iran over its nuclear program. Following months of diplomacy, OFAC stated that the P5 + 1 reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran regarding Iran’s nuclear program to ensure that it is exclusively peaceful going forward. Once the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) verifies that Iran has implemented key nuclear-related measures described in the JCPOA (“Implementation Day”), “U.S. sanctions relief will be provided through the suspension and eventual termination of nuclear-related secondary sanctions.” The P5 + 1 and Iran also concluded on July 14 that the sanctions relief provided for in the JPOA of November 24, 2013 would be extended through Implementation Day; until further notice, the JCPOA sanctions relief will be the only Iran-related sanction in effect. The White House issued a description of the agreement to demonstrate how the long-term comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran “will verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful going forward.” Finally, as decided on July 14, licenses with the following credentials will remain in effect in accordance with their terms until Implementation Day: (i) Issued by OFAC’s Second Amended Statement of Licensing Policy on Activities Related to the Safety of Iran’s Civil Aviation Industry; and (ii) set to expire on or before July 14, 2015. OFAC stated that the U.S. government will publish detailed guidance related to the JCPOA prior to Implementation Day, and will issue revised guidance on the continued JPOA relief shortly.
On July 10, OFAC published regulations to implement the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 and Executive Order 13692. The Act required the President to impose targeted sanctions on certain persons determined to be responsible for significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against antigovernment protesters in Venezuela, and to have ordered, or otherwise directed, the arrest or prosecution of certain persons in Venezuela. The Executive Order set forth standards for designating and suspending entry into the United States of corresponding persons in Venezuela. The regulations provide the framework for blocking property or interests in property of persons designated according to the Executive Order. According to OFAC, the regulations are currently in “abbreviated form” and the agency will issue a more comprehensive set of regulations that may provide further interpretive guidance, general licenses, and statements of licensing policy.
Update: OFAC Releases Guidance on the Continuation of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief Under the JPOA
On July 10, the P5 + 1, and Iran agreed to extend the JPOA for three days to further negotiations in reaching a comprehensive solution surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, OFAC issued updated guidance informing that all JPOA sanctions relief detailed in the Guidance, FAQs, and Statement of License Policy issued in November 2014 has been extended through July 13, 2015. This updated guidance replaces guidance previously issued by OFAC on July 7, 2015.
Update: OFAC Releases Guidance on the Continuation of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief Under the JPOA
On July 7, the P5 + 1, EU, and Iran agreed to extend the JPOA for three days to further negotiations in reaching a comprehensive solution surrounding Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, OFAC issued updated guidance informing that all JPOA sanctions relief detailed in the Guidance, FAQs, and Statement of License Policy issued in November 2014 has been extended through July 10, 2015. This updated guidance replaces guidance previously issued by OFAC on June 30, 2015.
On June 30, the P5 + 1, European Union, and Iran agreed to extend the Joint Plan of Action for seven days, furthering negotiations to reach a solution to reduce Iran’s nuclear program. In conjunction with the announcement of the seven day extension, OFAC published Guidance on the Continuation of Certain Temporary Sanctions Relief Implementing the Joint Plan of Action, as Extended. The guidance continues the JPOA sanctions relief period, provided in November 2014 as implemented via Guidance, FAQs, and Statement of Licensing Policy, from June 30 through July 7, 2015.
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.
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.
On March 23, Department of the Treasury’s OFAC announced a settlement agreement with a large money services business (MSB) for failing to implement an effective compliance program “to identify, interdict, and prevent transactions in apparent violation of the sanctions programs administered by OFAC.” According to the settlement, prior to the MSB’s 2013 “long term solution” to screen its transactions in real time against OFAC’s List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (the “SDN List”), deficiencies in the company’s transaction monitoring compliance procedures allowed for the processing of hundreds of transactions with OFAC-sanctioned individuals and countries. Specifically, OFAC alleged that from October 20, 2009 to April 1, 2013, the MSB processed over 100 transactions to or from an account registered to an individual on the SDN List because its “automated interdiction filter” did not initially identify the account holder as a potential match to the SDN List, and when it did, the MSB Operations Agents dismissed alerts on six separate occasions after failing to obtain or review documentation corroborating the identity of the SDN. Under the terms of the agreement, the MSB will (i) pay over $7 million to the Department of the Treasury and (ii) within six months, provide OFAC a summary of the company’s current policies and procedures as they relate to screening transactions and/or customers” to ensure compliance with OFAC regulations.
On March 11, OFAC updated its Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) list comprising of individuals and entities including a Russian national bank, Russian National Commercial Bank. The SDN list identifies persons and entities with which U.S. citizens and permanent residents are prohibited from doing business and whose assets or interests in assets that come within U.S. jurisdiction must be frozen.
On January 15, the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a final rule amending its Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR) to reflect policy changes previously announced by President Obama on December 17. The amendments (i) allow U.S. financial institutions to maintain correspondent accounts at Cuban financial institutions; (ii) allow U.S. financial institutions to enroll merchants and process credit and debit card transactions for travel-related and other transactions consistent with the CACR; (iii) increase the limit of remittances to $2,000 from $500 per quarter; and (iv) under an expanded license, allow U.S. registered brokers or dealers in securities and registered money transmitters to process authorized remittances without having to apply for a specific license. In addition, OFAC released a FAQ sheet to help explain the new amendments, which are effective January 16.
OFAC Settles with Independent Manufacturer for Alleged Violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations
Recently, OFAC settled with a Portland, Oregon based manufacturer for allegedly violating the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, 31 C.F.R. part 515. The manufacturer agreed to pay $2,057,540 for the actions of its subsidiary, which “purchased nickel briquettes made or derived from Cuban-origin nickel between on or about November 7, 2007, and on or about June 11, 2011.” OFAC concluded that the manufacturer self-disclosed the supposed violations and such violations “constitute a non-egregious case.” Under the Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines, OFAC noted that the manufacturer “acted with reckless disregard for Cuba sanctions program,” and caused “significant harm to…its policy objectives by conducting large-volume and high-value transactions in products made or derived from Cuban-nickel.”
On September 9, OFAC released an enforcement action against a CFTC-registered Introducing Broker and Commodity Trading Advisor that operates an electronic trading platform that allows customers to automatically place currency foreign exchange (FX) trades with broker-dealers. The company agreed to pay $200,000 to settle potential civil liability for apparent violations of Iran, Syria, and Sudan sanctions rules. According to OFAC, over “a number of years” the company maintained accounts for over 400 persons in Iran, Sudan, and Syria, and exported services to these customers by placing FX trades via its platform. The company also (i) originated eight funds transfers totaling $10,264.36 destined for two individuals located in Iran; and (ii) failed to screen or otherwise monitor its customer base for OFAC compliance purposes at the time of the apparent violations. OFAC determined that the company did not voluntarily self-disclose the apparent violations, and that the apparent violations constitute a non-egregious case. The base penalty for the apparent violations was $844,090,000. The lower settlement amount reflects OFAC’s consideration of the matter’s facts and circumstances, including the following mitigating factors: (i) the company is small with limited business operations; (ii) the company has taken remedial action in response to the apparent violations; (iii) the company has not received a penalty notice or Finding of Violation in the five years preceding the earliest date of the transactions giving rise to the apparent violations; and (iv) the company substantially cooperated with OFAC’s investigation.
On July 24, the OFAC released a settlement agreement with a large bank to resolve apparent violations of narcotics sanctions regulations. The settlement agreement states that during separate periods from September 2005 through March 2009, the bank allowed transactions to be processed for certain individuals designated under the narcotics sanctions regulations, and failed to timely file blocked property reports regarding accounts owned by other designated individuals. The bank did not admit to any allegation made or implied by the apparent violations, but agreed to pay approximately $16.5 million to resolve the matter. The agreement explains that most of the apparent violations were disclosed by the bank to OFAC as a result of remedial action designed to correct a screening deficiency giving rise to the apparent violations, but that such disclosures do not qualify as voluntarily self-disclosed to OFAC within the meaning of OFAC’s Economic Sanctions Enforcement Guidelines because they were substantially similar to apparent violations of which OFAC already was aware.
On June 5, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) announced a Dutch aerospace firm has agreed to pay $21 million to resolve allegations that the company violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and Sudan. OFAC alleged that from 2005 to 2010, the company indirectly exported or re-exported aircraft spare parts to Iranian or Sudanese customers, which the company either specifically procured from or had repaired in the United States, and required the issuance of a license by a federal agency at the time of shipment. The company self-reported 1,112 apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations, and 41 apparent violations of the Sudanese Sanctions Regulations. The settlement includes the payment of a $10.5 million civil penalty to OFAC and the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security, a forfeiture of an additional $10.5 million pursuant to a deferred prosecution agreement reached with the DOJ, and the acceptance of responsibility for its alleged criminal conduct. OFAC stated that the base penalty for the alleged violations was over $145 million, however it agreed to a lower settlement after considering that the company self-disclosed the violations and the company: (i) had no OFAC sanctions history in the five years preceding the date of the earliest of the alleged violations; (ii) adopted new and more effective internal controls and procedures, and (iii) provided substantial cooperation during the investigation.
On May 20, FinCEN issued Advisory FIN-2014-A004, warning financial institutions about the risk of illicit financial activity conducted by individuals with passports from St. Kitts and Nevis (SKN), which allows individuals to obtain passports through a citizenship-through-investment program. The program offers citizenship to any non-citizen who either invests in designated real estate with a value of at least $400,000, or contributes $250,000 to the SKN Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation. FinCEN believes that illicit actors are using the program to obtain SKN citizenship in order to mask their identity and geographic background for the purpose of evading U.S. or international sanctions or engaging in other financial crime. FinCEN advises financial institutions to conduct risk-based customer due diligence to mitigate the risk that a customer is disguising his or her identity for such an illicit purchase. FinCEN further reminds institutions of SAR filing obligations related to known or suspected illegal activity and potential OFAC obligations.