On December 8, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $133,860 settlement with an unnamed individual for apparent violations of the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR). According to OFAC’s settlement notice, the individual, who was located in the United States, received four payments in his personal bank account on behalf of an Iranian company for the sale of Iranian-origin cement clinker to a company in a third country.

OFAC also found that the individual coordinated the payment and the shipment of goods with a family member at the Iranian company. The settlement notice remarks that, although the payments involved a family member, they fell outside of the general license for personal remittances, at 31 CFR § 560.550, which only applies to “noncommercial” activity.Continue Reading OFAC Enters into Rare Settlement with Individual over Iranian Payments and Facilitation

On December 6, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) named one individual and 12 entities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gibraltar as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Sanctions program under Executive Order (EO) 13818.

The newly designated SDNs are part of a network of individuals and companies alleged to have provided material “support to sanctioned billionaire Dan Gertler,” who was designated under EO 13818, in December 2017, for allegedly engaging in significant corruption in the DRC mining and oil sectors. There are now 46 persons designated under EO 13813 in connection with Gertler.Continue Reading OFAC Sanctions DRC Associates of Sanctioned Billionaire in Conjunction with New Strategy on Countering Corruption and Global Magnitsky Designations

On December 6, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) seeking public comment on how FinCEN should regulate “all-cash” residential and commercial real estate transactions in the United States to address money laundering risks.

The ANPRM coincided with the publication of the Biden administration’s US Strategy on Countering Corruption, which highlights the real estate sector’s vulnerability to money laundering, particularly in regard to proceeds of foreign corruption. The Strategy also suggests the White House could work with Congress to adopt new regulations for other financial “gatekeepers” such as lawyers, accountants, and trust service providers who may facilitate transactions involving illicit property.Continue Reading FinCEN Launches Rulemaking Process for All-Cash Real Estate Deals

On December 2, 2021, the United States, the EU, the UK, and Canada announced a new round of coordinated sanctions in response to their concerns regarding the Belarusian government’s continued undermining of democracy, its violations of human rights, and its alleged orchestration of irregular migration into the EU. The latest sanctions include blocking sanctions and asset freezes, as well as new restrictions on US persons dealing in Belarusian sovereign debt.

For more information on earlier US, UK, and Canadian sanctions related to Belarus, see our August 13, 2021, blog post and April 19, 2021, blog post.Continue Reading Coordinated Sanctions Further Align Transatlantic Policies on Belarus

On November 15, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Public Ministry of Nicaragua and nine Nicaraguan government officials as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13851 and the Nicaragua Human Rights and Anticorruption Act of 2018 (NHRAA). According to a Treasury Department press release, the designations respond to the Nicaraguan government’s repression of opposition politicians leading up to “sham” elections in November 2021.

Among the designated persons is a senior banking regulatory official in Nicaragua, which underscores the risk to financial institutions in particular seeking to navigate US sanctions risks while operating in Nicaragua.Continue Reading OFAC Designates Nicaraguan Officials after “Sham Elections”

On November 1, 2021, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets (PWG), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) issued a joint report that, among other things, calls on Congress to adopt legislation to enable federal oversight of stablecoin issuers, custodial wallet providers that hold stablecoins, and others (e.g., certain DeFi products, services, and arrangements related to stablecoins).
Continue Reading FDIC and OCC Join President’s Working Group on Financial Markets in Calling for New Stablecoin Legislation, Oversight

On November 12, 2021, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated the Eritrean Defense Forces, the Eritrean People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), two government-linked commercial entities, the head of the Eritrean National Security Office, and a prominent political advisor as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 14046 of September 17, 2021, in response to the ongoing military conflict and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. These are the first designations made under the EO and OFAC’s recently adopted Ethiopia-related sanctions program.

According to a Treasury Department news release, the designations target Eritrean actors that have contributed to the situation in northern Ethiopia and “undermined the stability and integrity of the Ethiopian state.”Continue Reading US Government Targets Eritrea with Sanctions over Ethiopia Crisis

On October 18, 2021, the US Treasury Department published a report of its 2021 Sanctions Review of economic and financial sanctions implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) since September 11, 2001. The next day, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo delivered a summary of the report in testimony before the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

The review, which incorporates feedback from public and private stakeholders, together with Adeyemo’s testimony underscores the Treasury Department’s concern that the effectiveness of US sanctions could erode over time as non-US actors seek alternatives to the US financial system, including digital currencies and alternative payment platforms outside of US jurisdiction.  The report observes that not only adversaries but also “some allies” are reducing their use of the US dollar in cross-border transactions, implying that unilateral US actions are contributing to the risk that US sanctions could become less effective.  To counter this trend, the report lays out a five-point plan to “modernize sanctions” by enhancing the Treasury Department’s policy framework and processes for imposing, enforcing, and revising US sanctions.Continue Reading Changes Ahead? US Treasury Publishes Outcomes of Sanctions Policy Review

On October 15, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued anticipated Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry and updated two related Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs 559 and 646).  OFAC has published industry-specific guidance for only a handful of other industries in the past two decades; the new guidance demonstrates the agency’s increasing focus on the virtual currency (VC) sector.  It also clarifies US sanctions compliance practices in ways that could lay a foundation for future OFAC enforcement actions.

OFAC’s guidance was announced as part of broader US government enforcement priorities to combat ransomware, money laundering, and other financial crimes in the virtual currency sector, as noted in the Department of Justice’s recent announcement of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team.  The OFAC guidance was published in tandem with a Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) analysis of ransomware trends in suspicious activity reporting, but the guidance is directed at the VC industry in general and is not specific to ransomware.  A ransomware actor who demands VC may or may not be a target of OFAC sanctions, and sanctioned actors may engage in a wide variety of VC transactions that do not involve ransomware.  The recommended compliance practices in OFAC’s new guidance are focused on the full range of sanctions risks that arise from virtual currencies.Continue Reading OFAC Issues Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry

On September 24, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued General License 14 (GL-14) and General License 15 (GL-15), authorizing certain types of humanitarian transactions involving Afghanistan that could relate to the Taliban or the Haqqani Network that would otherwise be prohibited by the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations (GTSR), the Foreign Terrorist Organizations Sanctions Regulations (FTOSR), or Executive Order (EO) 13224.

Both the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are designated by OFAC as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) pursuant to EO 13224. The Haqqani Network is also designated by the US Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Furthermore, several of the individual members of the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are designated by OFAC as SDGTs.

These groups have recently taken control of, and appointed officials (including at least one individual designated as an SDGT) to administer, the Government of Afghanistan and its associated agencies and organizations.  As a result, there are concerns that interactions with the Government of Afghanistan could be prohibited to the extent they involve a person subject to US sanctions or expose parties to broader risks under US counter-terrorism financing laws.Continue Reading OFAC’s New Afghanistan-Related Humanitarian Licenses: Opportunities and Challenges