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 August 18, the New York DFS announced an agreement with a bank consulting firm to resolve allegations related to certain services it performed for a bank charged last year with sanctions violations. The consulting firm allegedly altered an historical transaction review (HTR) report submitted to regulators regarding wire transfers that the bank completed on behalf of sanctioned countries and entities. At the bank’s request, the firm allegedly removed from the original HTR report key information and warning language concerning the bank’s transactions. Specifically, the DFS alleges that the firm: (i) removed the English translation of the bank’s wire stripping instructions; (ii) removed a regulatory term to describe the wire-stripping instructions and a discussion of the activities; and (iii) deleted “several forensic questions” that the firm identified as necessary for consideration in connection with the HTR report. The agreement prohibits the firm from doing business with any DFS-regulated institution for two years and requires the firm to: (i) pay a $25 million penalty; and (ii) implement certain reforms to address the conflicts of interest within the consulting industry. Those reforms are based on a similar agreement obtained by the DFS last year from another consulting firm.
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 8, OFAC released enforcement information regarding “apparent violations” of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations by Canadian subsidiaries of a U.S. insurance company. The U.S. company self-reported 3,560 apparent violations that occurred between January 2006, and March 2009, and agreed to remit $279,038 to settle potential civil liability. OFAC stated that over a more than three-year period two Canadian subsidiaries issued or renewed property and casualty insurance policies that insured Cuban risks of a Canadian company, and that one of the subsidiaries maintained a D&O liability insurance policy that insured certain directors and officers of three Cuban joint venture partners of a Canadian corporation. Separately, another subsidiary sold, renewed, or maintained in force individual or annual multi-trip travel insurance policies in which the insured identified Cuba as the travel destination. The civil penalty reflects OFAC’s balancing of aggravating and mitigating factors, including the actual knowledge of the company and certain members of management of the violative conduct; and the company’s self-disclosure, cooperation, and advance remediation.
On May 8, OFAC issued regulations to implement recent Executive Orders establishing sanctions against Russian individuals and entities related to the situation in Ukraine. The Ukraine-Related Sanctions Regulations, 31 C.F.R. Part 589, implement Executive Order 13660 of March 6, 2014, Executive Order 13661 of March 17, 2014, and Executive Order 13662 of March 20, 2014. Consistent with its prior practice, OFAC published the regulations in abbreviated form and plans to provide a more comprehensive set of regulations, which may include additional interpretive and definitional guidance and additional general licenses and statements of licensing policy.
On April 28, the Treasury Department announced additional sanctions in response to developments in Ukraine by designating seven Russian government officials and 17 entities, including numerous financial institutions, pursuant to Executive Order 13661. That order authorizes sanctions on, among others, officials of the Russian Government and any individual or entity that is owned or controlled by, that has acted for or on behalf of, or that has provided material or other support to, a senior Russian government official. The designated individuals will be subject to an asset freeze and a U.S. visa ban, and the companies will be subject to an asset freeze. In addition, the Department of Commerce imposed additional restrictions on 13 of the companies by imposing a license requirement with a presumption of denial for the export, re-export or other foreign transfer of U.S.-origin items to the companies. Further, the Departments of Commerce and State tightened review of export license applications for any high-technology items that could contribute to Russia’s military capabilities, and plan to revoke any existing export licenses that meet the tightened conditions.
On April 18, OFAC announced that a privately held travel services provider based in the Netherlands but majority-owned by U.S. persons agreed to pay nearly $6 million to resolve allegations that over a roughly six-year period the company’s business units mostly outside the U.S. provided services related to travel to or from Cuba, which assisted 44,430 persons. OFAC states that such business activities constitute alleged violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The company voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations to OFAC, the vast majority of which occurred prior to such disclosure. OFAC claims that the company (i) failed to exercise a minimal degree of caution or care regarding its obligations to comply with OFAC sanctions against Cuba by processing unauthorized travel related transactions for more than four years before recognizing that it was subject to U.S. jurisdiction; (ii) processed a high volume of transactions and assisted a large number of travelers, which caused significant harm to the objectives of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations; and (iii) failed to implement an adequate compliance program. OFAC’s Cuba Penalty Schedule sets a base penalty for the alleged violations at $11,093,500, which was reduced given that (i) the conduct at issue was the company’s “first violation”; (ii) the company provided substantial cooperation during OFAC’s investigation of the alleged violations, including by agreeing to toll the statute of limitations and by providing OFAC with detailed and well-organized documents and information; and (iii) the company already has taken significant remedial action in response to the alleged violations.
This week, President Obama issued two new Executive Orders, one on March 17 and another on March 20, authorizing the Treasury Department to impose sanctions on (i) current and former Russian and Ukrainian officials; (ii) a Russian bank; (iii) any individual or entity that operates in the Russian arms industry; and (iv) any individual or entity determined to be owned or controlled by, to act on behalf of, or provide material or other support to, any senior Russian government official or blocked person. Concurrent with each executive order, OFAC added (on March 17 and March 20) numerous current and former Ukrainian and Russian officials to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. These latest actions expand on the President’s initial March 6 Executive Order authorizing sanctions in response to Russia’s recent actions related to Ukraine, which the Obama Administration has characterized as threatening Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and assets. Generally, the orders exclude the designated persons and entities from the U.S. financial system and block the designated persons’ and entities’ access to property and interests in property that are within the U.S. As a result, U.S. banking institutions are required to block the financial assets of the designated individuals and entities and report such blocked property to OFAC within 10 business days. The orders and sanctions are the beginning stages of a potential extended sanctions framework involving Russian officials and businesses.
On January 23, the Treasury Department’s OFAC announced that a Luxembourg bank agreed to pay $152 million to resolve potential civil claims that the bank concealed the interest of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) in certain securities held in one of the Luxembourg bank’s custody accounts. OFAC claims that from December 2007 through June 2008, the bank held an account at a U.S. financial institution through which the CBI maintained a beneficial ownership in 26 securities valued at nearly $3 billion. After assuring OFAC of its intention to terminate all business with its Iranian clients, the bank allegedly transferred the securities to another European bank’s custody account at the Luxembourg bank. Though the transfer changed the record ownership of the securities, the custody account allowed CBI to retain beneficial ownership. OFAC alleged that in acting as the channel through which the CBI held interests in the securities, the Luxembourg bank exported custody and related securities services in violation of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. OFAC highlighted the bank’s “strong remedial response” after learning of the alleged lapse mitigated the penalty amount. Although OFAC did not identify the specific enhanced controls implemented by the bank, it encouraged other firms operating as securities intermediaries to implement certain specific measures: (i) make customers aware of the firm’s U.S. sanctions compliance obligations and have customers agree in writing not to use their account(s) with the firm in a manner that could cause a violation of OFAC sanctions; (ii) conduct due diligence, including through the use of questionnaires and certifications, to identify customers who do business in or with countries or persons subject to U.S. sanctions; (iii) impose restrictions and heightened due diligence requirements on the use of certain products or services by customers who are judged to present a higher risk; (iv) attempt to understand the nature and purpose of non-proprietary accounts, including requiring information regarding third parties whose assets may be held in the accounts; and (v) monitor accounts to detect unusual or suspicious activity.
Federal, State Authorities Announce Coordinated Economic Sanctions Enforcement Actions Against Foreign Bank
On December 11, the Federal Reserve Board, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets and Controls (OFAC), and the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) announced that a foreign bank agreed to pay $100 million to resolve federal and state investigations into the bank’s practices concerning the transmission of funds to and from the U.S. through unaffiliated U.S. financial institutions, including by and through entities and individuals subject to the OFAC Regulations. The investigations followed a voluntary review by the bank of its U.S. dollar transactions, the results of which it submitted to federal, state, and foreign authorities. The federal and state authorities alleged that the bank engaged in payment practices that interfered with the implementation of U.S. economic sanctions, including by removing material references to U.S.-sanctioned locations or persons from payment messages sent to U.S. financial institutions. They assert the alleged failures resulted from inadequate risk management and legal review policies and procedures to ensure that activities conducted at offices outside the U.S. comply with applicable OFAC Regulations. As part of the resolution, the bank consented to a Federal Reserve cease and desist order and civil money penalty order, pursuant to which the bank must pay $50 million, continue to enhance its compliance controls, and retain an independent consultant to conduct an OFAC compliance review. A separate settlement with OFAC requires the bank to pay $33 million, which will be satisfied as part of the payment to the Federal Reserve. The DFS order assesses an additional $50 million penalty. The DFS highlighted that, as part of its cooperation with authorities, the bank took disciplinary action against individual wrongdoers, including through dismissals.
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. Read more…
On October 21, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed a $1.5 million civil penalty in an enforcement action against a UAE-based investment and advising company for violating the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations. OFAC determined that the firm recklessly or willfully concealed or omitted information pertaining to $103,283 in funds transfers processed through U.S.-based financial institutions for the benefit of persons in Iran. OFAC determined that the firm’s actions were egregious because (i) it did not voluntarily self-disclose the violations to OFAC, has no OFAC compliance program, and did not cooperate in the investigation, (ii) the firm’s management had actual knowledge or reason to know of the conduct, and (iii) the conduct resulted in potentially significant harm to the U.S. sanctions program against Iran.
On June 20, New York announced a consent order with the New York branch of a foreign bank to resolve charges that the bank — over a five year period that ended more than five years ago — violated Bank Secrecy Act, Anti-Money Laundering and international sanctions rules by stripping from wire transfer messages information that could have been used to identify government and privately owned entities in Iran, Sudan, and Myanmar, and entities on the Specially Designated Nationals list issued by the OFAC and moving billions of dollars through New York on their behalf. The order requires the bank to pay a $250 million penalty, conduct a compliance review, and revise written compliance and management oversight plans. The compliance review must be conducted by an independent consultant that will be subject to the new DFS code of conduct for bank consultants described in a prior Byte. This is at least the second time in the last year that New York has taken a major action against a domestic branch of a foreign bank related to money laundering and international sanctions violations. In a previous instance, federal authorities followed with substantial civil and criminal penalties related to the same conduct.
On June 18, New York announced an agreement with a bank consulting firm in connection with the firm’s work for a state-regulated bank alleged to have engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct on behalf of client Iranian financial institutions in violation of anti-money laundering and sanctions rules. An investigation conducted by the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) found that the consultant (i) failed to demonstrate autonomy and removed a recommendation aimed at rooting out money laundering from a written final report submitted to the DFS, and (ii) violated New York Banking Law § 36.10 by disclosing confidential information of other consulting firm clients to the bank. To resolve that investigation, the consulting firm agreed to (i) a voluntary one-year suspension from consulting work at any DFS-regulated institution, (ii) pay a $10 million penalty, and (iii) adopt a new code of conduct. The DFS intends for the code of conduct to serve as “a new model that will govern independent consulting firms that seek to be retained or approved by DFS.” The code of conduct states, among other things: (i) the financial institution and consultant must disclose all prior work by the consultant for the institution in the previous three years, (ii) the engagement letter must require that the ultimate conclusions and judgments will be that of the consultant based upon the exercise of its own judgment, (iii) the consultant and institution must submit a work plan for the engagement and timeline for completion of work, (iv) the DFS and the consultant must have ongoing communication, including outside the presence of the institution, and (v) the consultant must implement numerous record keeping, training, reporting, and other policies and procedures.
On June 3, the Obama Administration announced a new Executive Order authorizing sanctions that directly target trade in Iran’s currency, the rial. The order authorizes the Treasury Secretary to take action against foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct or facilitate significant transactions for the purchase or sale of the rial, or that maintain significant accounts outside of Iran denominated in the rial. Specifically, the Treasury Secretary can (i) prohibit opening, and prohibit or impose strict conditions on maintaining, in the United States, a correspondent account or a payable-through account by such foreign financial institution; or (ii) block all property and interests in property that are in the United States, that come within the United States, or that are or come within the possession or control of any United States person (including any foreign branch) of such foreign financial institution, and provide that such property and interests in property may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in. The order also (i) subjects to new sanctions persons and financial institutions that knowingly engage in transactions for the supply of significant goods or services used in connection with the automotive sector of Iran, and (ii) expands sanctions against those who materially assist, sponsor, or provide financial, material, or technological support to persons designated by Treasury as the “Government of Iran.”