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Evan Abrams counsels multinational corporations, financial institutions, and individuals on various international regulatory and compliance matters. He assists foreign and domestic companies in navigating national security reviews by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). He has represented companies in industries including semiconductors, metals, and digital security. Evan’s anti-money laundering (AML) practice focuses on helping financial institutions comply with federal and state AML rules, particularly money transmitters and entities involved in creating, exchanging, or dealing in cryptocurrencies and tokens. Evan counsels clients in a variety of export controls and sanctions matters related to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), and various sanctions programs under US and international law. In addition, Evan routinely assists clients on anti-corruption investigations and enforcement actions.

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On February 23, 2024, the United States issued a broad set of new Russia-related sanctions and export controls in response to the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the February 16, 2024, death of opposition leader, Aleksey Navalny, in Russian custody.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), and the State Department all issued new designations.  The agencies also issued an inter-agency advisory warning non-Russian companies from doing business in or with Russia.Continue Reading US Government Imposes New Russia Sanctions, Designating Over 500 Parties and Issuing Interagency Russia Business Advisory

In a recent proposed rule, the Department of Commerce has taken additional steps toward imposing significant regulations on infrastructure as a service (IaaS) providers, including providers engaged in training certain large AI models. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is published by Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and, in particular, its newly-created Office of Information and Communications Technology and Services (OICTS). The NPRM does not impose any immediate obligations on industry. Rather it requests comments on the proposed rules, which Commerce will consider before issuing a final rule. Comments are due by April 29, 2024.

The NPRM is OICTS’s first step toward implementing the Biden Administration’s executive order on AI (discussed in Steptoe’s alert here) and further implements a prior executive order on IaaS providers (discussed in Steptoe’s alert here).

The NPRM would require providers of IaaS products to implement customer identification programs (CIPs) to verify the identity of foreign customers. The CIP requirement is similar, in many respects, to the CIPs that certain US financial institutions must implement as part of their anti-money laundering (AML) compliance programs. The NPRM also delineates the ability of Commerce to identify foreign jurisdictions and persons posing a heightened threat to US national security and to prohibit or require conditions on the provision of IaaS products to such jurisdictions or persons. IaaS providers would be obligated to identify and report to Commerce when a foreign person uses their products to train a large AI model with potential capabilities that could be used in malicious cyber-enabled activity. Furthermore, IaaS providers would be required to ensure their resellers comply with the same set of rules.Continue Reading Commerce Proposes Significant New Regulations on AI Training and IaaS Providers

On October 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s (“Treasury”) Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would implement new recordkeeping and reporting requirements on domestic financial institutions and domestic financial agencies, related to transactions that they know, suspect, or have reason to suspect involve convertible virtual currency (CVC) mixing within or involving a non-U.S. jurisdiction. 

FinCEN issued the NPRM pursuant to Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provides the Secretary of the Treasury (the “Secretary”) the authority to require domestic financial institutions and domestic financial agencies to take “special measures” where the Secretary finds reasonable grounds to conclude that a class of transactions, institution, account, or foreign jurisdiction is of “primary money laundering concern.”  The NPRM identifies international CVC mixing as a class of transactions of primary money laundering concern, highlighting the use of CVC mixing services by illicit actors including cyber criminals and terrorist groups.  According to FinCEN’s press release, the NPRM represents FinCEN’s first use of Section 311 to target a class of transactions.Continue Reading FinCEN Proposed Rule Targets Digital Asset Mixers

After months of anticipation, a federal judge has finally ruled in the closely watched case of Joseph Van Loon, et al. v. Department of Treasury, et al.  This important case addressed challenges to the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) decision to impose sanctions on Tornado Cash as a Specially Designated National and Blocked Person (SDN).  The judge granted summary judgement in favor of OFAC, finding it had sufficient legal authority to designate Tornado Cash, and denied summary judgement on the plaintiffs’ claims.  Shortly after that ruling, OFAC announced the SDN designation of Roman Semenov, one of three alleged co-founders of Tornado Cash, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Semenov and Roman Storm, another Tornado Cash founder, with multiple alleged criminal violations related to anti-money laundering (AML) and economic sanctions laws. 

All three actions are critical developments that contain key insights on how the US government views the AML and sanctions obligations of decentralized protocols and individuals associated with those protocols.  The developments make clear that, at least in certain scenarios, individuals involved in the creation of a DeFi platform can be held responsible for the activities conducted on that platform where such conduct violates US economic sanctions or AML laws, or constitutes sanctionable activity under applicable executive orders. Continue Reading Critical Tornado Cash Developments Have Significant Implications for DeFi AML and Sanctions Compliance

On July 31, 2023, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) released its Annual Report to Congress for Calendar Year 2022.  CFIUS is the inter-agency body charged with conducting national security reviews for certain foreign investments in the United States.  The CFIUS process is generally confidential, but the annual report provides aggregate data on certain CFIUS activities and offers the private sector insight into current Committee trends.Continue Reading Key Takeaways from the 2022 CFIUS Annual Report

Overview

On August 9, 2023, the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order, entitled Addressing United States Investments in Certain National Security Technologies and Products in Countries of Concern (“EO 14105”). The EO establishes a new national security regulatory regime, implemented principally by the US Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”), in consultation with other federal agencies including the US Department of Commerce, that will require the notification of, as well as prohibit, certain investment activity by US persons in named “countries of concern,” currently China.

EO 14105 does not restrict all US person investment activity regarding China, and is tailored to focus on specific products, technologies, and capabilities involving: (1) semiconductors and microelectronics (including advanced integrated circuits and supercomputers); (2) quantum information technologies (e.g., computers, sensors, networking, and systems); and (3) certain artificial intelligence systems (e.g., with certain military, intelligence, or surveillance end uses).Continue Reading Biden Administration Announces New Outbound Investment Regime Targeting China

On June 16, 2023, the US Department of Commerce published a final rule (the “June 16 rule”) to implement Executive Order (EO) 14034, Protecting Americans’ Sensitive Data From Foreign Adversaries, by amending Commerce’s previously-issued Securing the Information and Communications Technology Supply Chain regulations (the “ICTS rule”).   Among other requirements, EO 14034 directed the Secretary of Commerce to consider the risks posed by “connected software applications” and take “appropriate action” in accordance with the previously issued ICTS rule and EO 13873, Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain, pursuant to which the ICTS rule was issued. 

The ICTS rule authorizes Commerce to prohibit or otherwise regulate certain transactions involving information and communications technology or services (“ICTS”) with a nexus to “foreign adversaries” that pose an “undue or unacceptable risk” to US national security.  (For additional detail on the ICTS rule, see our prior blog post.)  The June 16 rule amends the ICTS rule to clarify Commerce’s ability to regulate transactions involving software, including so-called “connected software applications,” and to further enumerate the criteria that Commerce will consider when reviewing such transactions.   The changes are effective July 17, 2023.Continue Reading Commerce Issues Final Rule Targeting Connected Software Applications

The Department of the Treasury’s recently issued Illicit Finance Risk Assessment of Decentralized Finance is principally intended to provide insight on how illicit actors are abusing decentralized finance (DeFi) services, as well as anti-money laundering (AML) and countering the financing of terrorism (CFT) vulnerabilities unique to DeFi.  However, the report also contains critical insight on how Treasury, and, presumably, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) within Treasury, view the applicability of existing US AML/CFT regulations, issued pursuant to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), to DeFi projects. Continue Reading Risk Assessment Offers Treasury’s Most Extensive Comments to Date on DeFi Regulation

On January 18, 2023, the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an order identifying the virtual currency exchange Bitzlato Limited (Bitzlato) as a “primary money laundering concern” in connection with Russian illicit finance.  The order, which is the first of its kind, was issued pursuant to Section 9714(a) of the Combating Russian Money Laundering Act. Continue Reading In Unprecedented Action FinCEN Identifies Virtual Currency Exchange as Primary Money Laundering Concern

On January 17, 2023, the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issued an interim final rule (the “January 17 rule”), expanding its recent China-focused export controls, related to advanced computing and semiconductors, to Macau.  These controls, initially imposed on China (including Hong Kong), were announced in an interim final rule on October 7, 2022 (the “October 7 rule”). Continue Reading BIS Extends Advanced Computing and Semiconductor Rules to Macau