Tag Archives: Roberto J. Gonzalez

OFAC Takes Enforcement Action Against U.S. Parent Company for its Recently Acquired Chinese Subsidiary’s Iran Sanctions Violations

by Brad S. Karp, H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Christopher D. Frey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel M. Fiorill, Karen R. King, Joshua R. Thompson

Enforcement Action Shows the Importance of Pre-Acquisition Sanctions Due Diligence and Post-Acquisition Sanctions Compliance Enhancements

On March 27, 2019, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a $1,869,144 settlement agreement with Connecticut-based Stanley Black & Decker, Inc. (“Stanley Black & Decker”), a manufacturer of industrial tools and household hardware, regarding 23 apparent violations of OFAC’s Iran sanctions regulations.[1] OFAC determined that Stanley Black & Decker’s Chinese subsidiary, Jiangsu Guoqiang Tools Co. Ltd. (“GQ”), knowingly provided power tools and spare parts to Iranian end-users.[2] According to OFAC, GQ’s shipments were made via third-party intermediaries, located in the United Arab Emirates and China, with the knowledge that the products were ultimately destined for Iran.[3]  Under U.S. law, non-U.S. companies owned or controlled by U.S. companies are required to adhere to Iran sanctions as if they were U.S. persons.  The settlement,  along with the Kollmorgen Corporation (“Kollmorgen”) settlement in February 2019, signals the Trump Administration’s willingness to hold U.S. parent companies liable for their subsidiaries’ Iran sanctions violations, which is an area that, prior to this year, had seen little enforcement activity to date. Continue reading

Economic Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Developments: 2018 Year in Review

by Brad S. Karp, Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman , Roberto J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel M. Fiorill, and Karen R. King.

Executive Summary

This memorandum surveys economic sanctions and anti-money laundering (“AML”) developments and trends in 2018 and provides an outlook for the year ahead. These areas remained a high priority last year, with the Trump administration making major changes in U.S. sanctions policy and federal and state agencies imposing over $2.7 billion in penalties for sanctions/AML violations. We also provide some thoughts concerning compliance and risk mitigation in this challenging environment.

After a period of relative quiet on the sanctions enforcement front, the last months of 2018 saw a $1.3 billion multi-agency resolution with Société Générale S.A., a burst of enforcement actions by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls (“OFAC”), and Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker’s announcement that OFAC will soon publish guidance on the “hallmarks of an effective sanctions compliance program” and incorporate these principles in future settlements. Last year also witnessed significant and constant changes to the sanctions policy landscape. In a dramatic break from the Obama administration’s policy towards Iran, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“JCPOA”) in May 2018, and fully revoked JCPOA-era sanctions relief by November 2018, creating new sanctions risks for U.S. and non-U.S. companies across industries, generating conflict-of-law issues, and straining relations with U.S. allies.  The administration also took a number of significant actions with respect to Russia/Ukraine sanctions, including designating a number of Russian “oligarchs” and their global companies and taking further steps to implement the Russian secondary sanctions regime enacted by Congress in the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (“CAATSA”).  The administration also imposed several new sanctions against the Maduro regime in Venezuela (and recently sanctioned Venezuela’s national oil company), continued its campaign of “maximum pressure” on North Korea, implemented Global Magnitsky Act sanctions targeting human rights abuses and corruption worldwide, and established new sanctions programs targeting the Nicaraguan regime and non-U.S. interference in U.S. elections. Continue reading

Court Upholds SEC Authority and Finds Broker-Dealer Liable for Thousands of Suspicious Activity Reporting Violations

by H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, David S. HuntingtonBrad S. Karp, Raphael M. Russo, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel M. Fiorill, Karen R. King, Anand Sithian, and Katherine S. Stewart

Decision Provides Rare Judicial Guidance on SAR Filing Requirements

On December 11, 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) obtained a victory in its enforcement action against Alpine Securities Corporation, a broker that cleared transactions for microcap securities that were allegedly used in manipulative schemes to harm investors.[1] Judge Cote of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a 100-page opinion partially granting the SEC’s motion for summary judgment and finding Alpine liable for thousands of violations of its obligation to file Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs).[2]

Because most SAR-related enforcement actions are resolved without litigation, this decision is a rare instance of a court’s detailed examination of SAR filing requirements.  The decision began by rejecting—for a second time[3]—Alpine’s argument that the SEC lacks authority to pursue SAR violations.  The court then engaged in a number of line-drawing exercises, finding that various pieces of information, as a matter of law, triggered Alpine’s SAR filing obligations and should have been included in the SAR narratives.  This mode of analysis, which applies the SAR rules under the traditional summary judgment standard, may appear to contrast with regulatory guidance recognizing that SARs involve subjective, discretionary judgments.[4]

Although the decision has particular relevance in the microcap context, all broker-dealers—and potentially other entities subject to SAR filing requirements—may wish to review the court’s reasoning for insight on a number of SAR issues, including the adequacy of SAR narratives and the inclusion of “red flag” information. Among other cautions, the decision illustrates the dangers of relying on SAR “template narratives”[5] that lack adequate detail.

More broadly, the SEC’s action against Alpine is another indicator of heightened federal interest in ensuring broker-dealer compliance with Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) requirements. For example, last month the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York brought the first-ever criminal BSA charge against a broker-dealer, noting that this charge “makes clear that all actors governed by the Bank Secrecy Act—not only banks—must uphold their obligations.”[6] Continue reading

Preparing for an Uptick in Congressional Investigations of Corporations

by Susanna M. Buergel, H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, Udi Grofman, Jeh Charles Johnson, Jonathan S. Kanter, Brad S. Karp, Mark F. Mendelsohn, and Alex Young K. Oh

Beginning next month, Democrats will control the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010.  Given the pent-up demand for House Democrats to make robust use of their oversight and investigative authorities, the current relative lull in congressional investigations of corporations is expected to end.  Corporations across sectors should anticipate an uptick in investigative activity. 

In addition to holding the majority for the first time in nearly a decade, this will be the first time that Democrats control the House since a 2015 rule change that empowered a number of committee chairs to subpoena witnesses or documents unilaterally.  The chairs of the following committees, among others, have this authority: Energy and Commerce; Financial Services; Intelligence; Judiciary; Natural Resources; and  Oversight and Government Reform.[1] Continue reading

OFAC Reaches Settlement with Cobham Holdings, Inc. for Violations Resulting from Deficient Screening Software

by H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, Brad S. Karp, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel M. Fiorill, and Karen R. King

On November 27, 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) announced a nearly $90,000 settlement agreement with Virginia-based Cobham Holdings, Inc. (“Cobham”), a global provider of technology and services in aviation, electronics, communications, and defense, on behalf of its former subsidiary, Aeroflex/Metelics, Inc. (“Metelics”).[1] The settlement involves three shipments of goods through distributors in Canada and Russia to an entity that did not appear on OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List (the “SDN List”), but was blocked under OFAC’s “50% rule” because it was 51% owned by a company sanctioned under the Russia/Ukraine sanctions program. This is the second OFAC action of which we are aware that has relied on the 50% rule.  The apparent violations appear to have been caused by Metelics’s (and Cobham’s) reliance on deficient third-party screening software.

While difficult to predict, OFAC’s decision to pursue this action—involving only three shipments, a violation of the 50 percent rule, and where the root cause of the apparent violations is attributable to deficient sanctions screening software—may signal a raising of OFAC’s compliance expectations, consistent with Treasury Under Secretary Sigal Mandelker’s warning in a recent speech that private sector companies “must do more to make sure [their] compliance systems are airtight.”[2]

Below, we describe the settlement, OFAC’s penalty calculation, and several lessons learned. Continue reading

New York DFS Pursues $630 Million Fine Against Bank for Alleged Anti-Money Laundering and Sanctions Compliance Failures

by Brad S. Karp, H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Elliott, Rachel Fiorill and Karen R. King

On August 28, 2017, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) announced a “Notice of Hearing and Statement of Charges” that seeks to impose a nearly $630 million civil penalty against Habib Bank Limited and its New York Branch (“the Bank”) based on allegations of persistent Bank Secrecy Act/anti-money laundering (“AML”) and sanctions compliance failures.[1] A hearing is scheduled for September 27, 2017 before Cassandra Lentchner, DFS’s Deputy Superintendent for Compliance. The Bank – the largest bank in Pakistan – has contested DFS’s allegations and indicated that it plans to challenge the penalty and surrender its DFS banking license, thus eliminating its only U.S. branch.  DFS also issued two related orders, which (1) expanded the scope of a review of prior transactions for AML and sanctions issues, that was already underway under the terms of an earlier consent order; and (2) outlined the conditions under which the Bank could surrender its DFS banking license, including the retention of a DFS-selected consultant to ensure the orderly wind down of its New York Branch.

The severity of the language and proposed penalty in DFS’s statement of charges reflects the large number and extent of alleged compliance failures at the Bank, which DFS claims persisted for more than a decade, despite agreements with DFS and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors (“Federal Reserve”). According to DFS, these failures are “serious, persistent and apparently affect the entire [Bank] enterprise” and indicate a “dangerous absence of attention by [the Bank’s] senior management for the state of compliance at the New York Branch.”

This enforcement action illustrates that a DFS-regulated institution’s failure to show steady progress in remedying identified concerns can have significant and franchise-threatening consequences. We describe the enforcement action in more detail below, including the numerous compliance failures alleged by DFS. Continue reading

President Trump Signs Sanctions Legislation Targeting Russia, North Korea and Iran, Creating New Compliance Risks for U.S. and Non-U.S. Companies

by Brad S. Karp, H. Christopher Boehning, Jessica S. Carey, Michael E. Gertzman, Roberto J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Elliott, and Karen R. King

Legislation Expands Primary and Secondary Sanctions and Limits Presidential Discretion

On August 2, 2017, President Trump signed into law H.R. 3364, the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (“CAATSA” or the “Act”). CAATSA—which was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate and House of Representatives on a broad bipartisan basis[1]—significantly expands certain U.S. sanctions targeting Russia. The law also restricts President Trump’s ability to lift certain sanctions unilaterally, by including a congressional review mechanism that will allow Congress to potentially block the President from relaxing measures targeting Russia.  CAATSA also adds sanctions targeting North Korea, largely incorporating an earlier House bill, the “Korean Interdictions and Modernization of Sanctions (“KIMS”) Act.”  Finally, CAATSA codifies certain non-nuclear sanctions in place against Iran.  Many of the law’s sanctions are secondary sanctions, meaning that non-U.S. entities that engage in certain activities—even if such activities do not involve U.S. persons or the United States—may themselves be sanctioned by the United States.

While a number of the sanctions included in CAATSA are referred to as “mandatory,” it remains to be seen how certain provisions are enforced by the Trump Administration. As an initial matter, many of these provisions require the President to sanction individuals or entities only after he determines that they have engaged in certain activities, thus allowing the President to theoretically refrain from enforcing these sanctions by withholding certain determinations. Additionally, in signing the Act, President Trump released two signing statements, in which he noted his “concerns to Congress about the many ways [the bill] improperly encroaches on Executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies,” and his view that the “bill remains seriously flawed,” because it “encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate” and because “the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.”  President Trump stated that he would implement the statute’s restrictions “in a manner consistent with the President’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations.” [2]

We describe below CAATSA’s most significant provisions, and outline considerations for U.S. and non-U.S. companies seeking to mitigate their risks under the new legislation. Continue reading