In a recent opinion, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that there is probable cause to find that a U.S. citizen-defendant violated U.S. sanctions by funneling cryptocurrency to a payments platform that the defendant operated in a “comprehensively sanctioned country.”
Continue Reading U.S. Federal Judge Finds Probable Cause for Conspiracy to Violate U.S. Sanctions and to Defraud the United States in First Published Opinion Discussing U.S. Sanctions Violations Involving Use of Cryptocurrency

On March 9, 2022, President Biden signed a wide-ranging Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of Digital Assets. While the Order does not mandate any particular regulatory prescriptions, it lays out key policy goals for a whole-of-government approach to digital asset regulation and directs the U.S. Government to assess the potential for a U.S.

U.S. sanctions policy in the first year of the Biden administration saw both change and continuity. As expected, the administration sought to cooperate with allies to impose multilateral (rather than unilateral) sanctions, focused on human rights abuses and opened the door for a new nuclear deal with Iran. At the same time, the administration continued to focus on virtual currencies and on combating illicit cyber activities relating to ransomware, and clarified (and in some respects expanded) sanctions issued under the Trump administration targeting Chinese companies deemed to be part of the Chinese military-industrial complex.
Continue Reading Economic Sanctions: Developments and Considerations

On November 8, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated a virtual currency exchange, Chatex, and its infrastructure support providers on the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) for their role in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.[i]  The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) also released an updated advisory on ransomware and the use of the financial system to facilitate ransomware payments.[ii]  These actions were taken in furtherance of a coordinated “whole-of-government” effort to disrupt criminal ransomware actors and the virtual currency exchanges used to launder ransom payments around the world.
Continue Reading OFAC Ramps up Targeting of Ransomware-linked Actors and FinCEN Updates Ransomware Advisory

On October 15, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) issued “Sanctions Compliance Guidance for the Virtual Currency Industry” (the “Guidance”).  The Guidance follows recent guidance and advisory letters directed to the virtual currency industry relating to the risk of facilitating ransomware payments[1] and is OFAC’s most comprehensive virtual currency-specific advisory to date.  In particular, the Guidance directly addresses some simpler interpretive questions, discusses sanctions compliance programs and “best practices,” and provides hints about OFAC’s enforcement priorities going forward.
Continue Reading OFAC Issues Sanctions Guidance to Virtual Currency Industry

On September 21, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC): (i) issued an updated advisory on potential sanctions risks for facilitating ransomware payments; and (ii) designated SUEX OTC, S.R.O. (SUEX), a virtual currency exchange, on the list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN List) for its role in facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors.[1]  These actions demonstrate the U.S. government’s increasing focus on virtual currencies as a key means of facilitating ransomware payments and related money laundering, as well as OFAC’s commitment to combating ransomware attacks and other malicious cyber activities.
Continue Reading OFAC Updates Ransomware Advisory and Sanctions Virtual Currency Exchange

While large financial institutions have traditionally been hesitant to enter new areas of financial products, particularly virtual assets, many more banks and companies have expressed interest in virtual currencies as cryptocurrency has become increasingly mainstream.  Given the use of such services by terrorist groups, it is important for banks and other financial institutions to consider evolving dynamics in this area.  On the one hand, one of the widely described benefits of virtual currency is the transparency and public nature of transactions since they are typically recorded in a publicly accessible blockchain, which could facilitate policing and enforcement against illicit activity.  At the same time, the relevant legal framework for combating terrorist funding creates potential areas of liability, including, in particular under the Anti-Terrorism Act (“ATA”) and the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (“JASTA”).  These considerations are important for companies and banks that provide services related to virtual currency, but also are relevant to any company that could be the target of ransomware attacks since attackers may be sanctioned entities or have ties to terrorism and as a matter of practice demand that the ransom payment be made in virtual currency.

Continue Reading Cryptocurrency and Other New Forms of Financial Technology: Potential Terrorist Financing Concerns and Liability

On February 18, 2021, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $507,375 settlement with BitPay, Inc. (BitPay), a payment processor for merchants accepting digital currency as payment for goods and services, for 2,102 apparent violations of multiple sanctions programs between 2013 and 2018.[1] The settlement highlights that financial service providers facilitating digital currency transactions must not only establish sanctions compliance programs to screen their own customers but also must monitor third-party non-customer transaction information.
Continue Reading OFAC Settles with Digital Currency Payment Processor for Sanctions Violations