BCC Corporate SA settles with OFAC for violating Cuba sanctions

OFAC2BCC Corporate SA (BCCC), a Belgium-based credit card issuer and corporate service company, has admitted to 1,818 violations of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations.

In particular, BCCC had “failed to implement controls to prevent BCCC-issued credit cards from being used in Cuba”. Between April 2009 and February 2014, it had processed 1,818 transactions totalling $583,649.43 for more than 100 distinct corporate customers of BCCC whose cards were used in Cuba or that otherwise involved Cuba.

American Express Company (AMEX), a parent company of BCCC, has agreed to remit $204,277 to OFAC in order to settle the violations. For the full enforcement information, released on 17 November 2017, click here.

OFAC amends Cuban Assets Control Regulations

Logo_of_the_U.S._Office_of_Foreign_Assets_Control_(OFAC)OFAC has announced that it is amending the Cuban Assets Control Regulations in order to implement the National Security Presidential Memorandum, “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” signed by President Trump in June 2017.

The amendments, which come into effect today, implement changes to the authorisations for travel to Cuba and related transactions, and restrict certain financial transactions with particular entities that are “under the control of, or act for or on behalf of, the Cuban military, intelligence, or security service or personnel”.

OFAC has stated that the regulatory changes are “intended to channel economic activities away from the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services, while maintaining opportunities for Americans to engage in authorised travel to Cuba and support the private, small business sector in Cuba.”

Links available for the OFAC Notice, updated FAQs and a factsheet relating to this regulatory amendment.

US votes against UN resolution to lift Cuba embargo

UN General Assembly.jpgThe UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution calling for an end to the US trade embargo on Cuba. A total of 191 UN member states approved the non-binding resolution, whilst the US and Israel voted to oppose it.

The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said that the embargo would remain in place “as long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Only the US Congress can lift the trade embargo. Click here for the UN press release.

President Trump addresses the UN on sanctions

President Trump has given his first address to the UN General Assembly, in which he made several comments relating to sanctions. He again criticised the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, describing it as “an embarrassment to the US” and creating further uncertainty about the deal’s future. World leaders have called on President Trump not to undermine the deal, which enjoys near-universal support among UN Member States.

The President also said that he would not lift the US trade embargo on Cuba until Cuba made “fundamental reforms”. In June, President Trump reinstated some of the sanctions on Cuba that were lifted by President Obama (see previous blog), chilling a relationship that had begun to thaw under the previous administration. In addition, he warned that the US was prepared to take further action against the administration of President Maduro of Venezuela, which the US describes as a dictatorship (see previous blog).

OFAC fines AIG for US sanctions violations

At the end of last month, OFAC fined US insurance and financial services company AIG $148,698 for violating US sanctions on Cuba, Iran, and Sudan.  OFAC said that although AIG’s compliance programme included recommendations for when to use exclusion clauses in its insurance policies where US sanctions were involved, the scope of most of those exclusion clauses was too narrow. As a result, AIG provided insurance coverage to parties that were engaging in shipments to or from Cuba, Iran, and Sudan, primarily under global insurance policies.

OFAC’s enforcement notice is here.

New US sanctions on Cuba

On Friday President Trump signed an Executive Order introducing new sanctions measures against Cuba, reinstating some of the measures that had been lifted by President Obama.  The new sanctions do not re-impose the trade embargo but increase US restrictions on travel to Cuba, prohibiting privately planned trips and limiting travel again to authorised educational trips.  The measures prohibit transactions between US travellers in Cuba and entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services, including the Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), which is in involved in many sectors of the Cuban economy.

OFAC has published a new set of FAQs on the changes here.

OFAC announces 2 fines for violations of Iran and Cuba sanctions

OFAC has announced two settlement agreements relating to violations of US sanctions on Iran and Cuba.

Aban Offshore Limited

Aban has agreed to pay $17,500 for violating US sanctions on Iran in 2008 when its Singapore subsidiary ordered oil rig supplies from the US, with the intention of re-exporting them from the UAE to a rig in Iranian territorial waters.  OFAC determined that Aban did not voluntarily self-disclose the violation, but that it constituted a non-egregious case.  In mitigation, OFAC also noted that Aban displayed substantial cooperation with OFAC’s investigation, including by conducting its own internal investigation into potential prior violations of sanctions.  OFAC’s enforcement notice is here.

An individual & Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation

OFAC has issued a $10,000 fine to an individual acting in his personal capacity and Alliance, on whose behalf the individual also acted.  They are said to have violated US sanctions on Cuba by engaging in unauthorised travel-related transactions during business travel to Cuba in 2010 and 2011.  Although OFAC found the individual’s conduct to have been wilful, it noted that the violations appeared to cause minimal harm to US sanctions objectives. OFAC’s enforcement notice is here.

OFAC guidance on Cuba 180-day rule and Cuba de-listings

havana-cuba-1OFAC has updated its FAQ on US sanctions against Cuba to provide guidance on the “180-day rule” that applies to vessels visiting Cuba (FAQs 86-90, link here), and has also de-listed several people and entities from its Cuba sanctions.  The 180-day rule prohibits any vessel that enters a port or place in Cuba with the purpose of trading in goods or services from loading or unloading freight at a US port for 180 days after it leaves Cuba.

The new guidance sets out several exceptions to the 180-day rule, including when the trade was authorised under the Cuban Assets Control Regulations or where the vessel has entered a port for the purpose of licensed educational activities.  It stipulates that the exceptions to the 180-day rule do not in and of themselves authorise shipments to or from Cuba.