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 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 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.”
On January 10, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued an advisory to highlight practices being used to evade sanctions on Iran, including the use of third-country exchange houses or trading companies that are acting as money transmitters to process funds transfers through the United States in support of unauthorized business with Iran. According to the advisory, the transactions at issue omit references to Iranian addresses and omit the names of Iranian persons or entities in the originator or beneficiary fields. Funds are then transmitted from an exchange house or trading company located in a third country to or through the United States on behalf of an individual or company located in Iran or on behalf of a U.S.-designated person without referencing the involvement of Iran or the designated persons. OFAC urged U.S. financial institutions to (i) monitor payments involving the third-country exchange house or trading company that may be processing commercial transactions related to Iran, and requesting additional information from correspondents on the nature of such transactions and the parties involved, (ii) conduct account and/or transaction reviews for individual exchange houses or trading companies that have repeatedly violated or attempted to violate U.S. sanctions against Iran, and (iii) contact their correspondents that maintain accounts for, or facilitate transactions on behalf of, a third-country exchange house or trading company that engages in any of the practices identified in the advisory.
U.S. Law Enforcement Authorities and Regulators Resolve Significant Money Laundering and Sanctions Investigations
On December 11, a major international bank holding company announced agreements with U.S. law enforcement authorities and federal bank regulators to end investigations into alleged inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws by the holding company and its U.S. subsidiaries (collectively the banks). Under these agreements, the banks will make payments totaling $1.92 billion, will continue to cooperate fully with regulatory and law enforcement authorities, and will take further action to strengthen its compliance policies and procedures. As part of the resolution, the bank entered into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the DOJ pursuant to which the banks will forfeit $1.256 billion, $375 million of which satisfies a settlement with the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The four-count criminal information filed in conjunction with the DPA charges that the banks violated the Bank Secrecy Act by failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and to conduct appropriate due diligence on its foreign correspondent account holders. The DOJ also alleged that the banks violated the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the Trading with the Enemy Act by illegally conducting transactions on behalf of customers in certain countries that were subject to sanctions enforced by OFAC. The banks agreed to pay a single $500 million civil penalty to satisfy separate assessments by the OCC and FinCEN related to the same alleged conduct, as well as a $165 million penalty to the Federal Reserve Board. The banks already have undertaken numerous voluntary remedial actions, including to (i) substantially increase AML compliance spending and staffing, (ii) revamp their Know Your Customer program, (iii) exit 109 correspondent relationships for risk reasons, and (iv) claw back bonuses for a number of senior officers. Read more…
On August 14, the New York Superintendent of Financial Services announced the resolution of recent charges that a British bank and its U.S. subsidiary engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct in order to move substantial funds on behalf of client Iranian financial institutions that were subject to U.S. sanctions. While the details of the settlement have not been released, the Superintendent stated that the bank must (i) pay a civil penalty of $340 million to the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS), (ii) install a monitor for a term of at least two years who will report directly to DFS and who will evaluate the money-laundering risk controls in the New York branch and implementation of appropriate corrective measures, (iii) allow DFS examiners to be placed on site at the bank, and (iv) permanently install personnel within its New York branch to oversee and audit the bank’s offshore money-laundering due diligence and monitoring program.
On August 6, the New York Department of Financial Services (NY DFS) ordered the U.S. subsidiary of a British bank to appear on August 15 to respond to allegations of money laundering that, if true, could cost the bank its license to conduct business in New York. The order alleges that the bank engaged in deceptive and fraudulent misconduct in order to move at least $250 billion through its New York branch on behalf of client Iranian financial institutions in contravention of U.S. sanctions. While the bank acknowledges that it has been conducting a historical review of its money laundering compliance, and that it has voluntarily disclosed that review to federal agencies, it argues that the NY DFS is misinterpreting the transactions at issue and strongly refutes the allegations.