OFAC Resolve Clash With First Amendment

Akamai Traffic to Syria
Akamai Traffic to Syria

In may of 2014, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) imposed sanctions on trade with Syria, including books and other works by Syrian authors. The sanction on Syrian authors include Syrian nationals in the United States. Pen American Center and other publishers and author groups opposed this move as an infringement on the First Amendment. Last week, OFAC amended the sanction to excluding trade involving publishing. This was a similar move made a decade ago when OFAC amended sanctions on Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese transactions “necessary and ordinarily incidental” to publishing and marketing written works from those regions.

Rosie Malek-Yonan, Assyrian Authoer
Rosie Malek-Yonan, Assyrian Authoer

While OFAC’s amendment makes obvious sense, so does its pre-amended sanction. Trade involves money and the transactions of money in exchange for expression could lead to funding terrorism because “expression” could mean a whole lot of things. Even if trade didn’t involve money or things of monetary value, publishing could be a method of providing communication for terrorists. Of course, providing communication paths is not unique to publishing. Messages could be attached to invoices as well. And then there are the great number of communications devices and software available for free.


About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses. He is the author of the forthcoming book History of Money Laundering: How criminals got paid and got away.


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Adam Szubin’s Key Note

On Monday, January 26, Associations of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists (hereon ACAMS) held its Third Annual AML Risk Management Conference at The Conrad Hotel in downtown New York. Over the course of this week, summaries and takeaways from the key notes and panel discussions will be shared in this blog.

Adam Szubin is the exiting director of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) in the Department of Treasury. Soon, he will be the acting under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, another office in the Treasury.

HeaderSzubin has a history of speaking at Financial Crimes-related conferences because of his long held position as the director of OFAC. Applauded members of ACAMS for doing their best to make Anti-Money Laundering profession a serious endeavor. Then he alerted to three nuanced risks for the profession.

CUBA was his first concern. As the United States lifts nearly all of its sanctions against the communist island nation this year, it opens up another route for corruption to take place.

RUSSIA was his second concern. OFAC’s Magnitsky Sanctions List enumerates targets explicitly, but not all activities are sanctioned and not all enumerated have been sanctioned the in the same manner. The theme of this sanction is debt and equity financing, or the limit thereof. This is a target on a crucial source of currency for Russia in order for it to succeed. The capital markets have also worked against Russia by lowering the price of oil, the primary source of revenue for Russia. It’s an additional wind behind OFAC’s sanctions.

IRAN was his final enumerated concerns. Even more nuanced than the previous two examples. Iran’s domestic politics indicate the type and length to which the regime is willing to evade western powers to fund terror.

Transparency is the key to successful sanctions compliance. Breach of compliance is often accidental. Finding breaches are difficult because often the breaches are in omnibus accounts. Also global trade cannot stop for complex business areas, like re-insurance of trans-ocean ships.

Because of the human nature of business, financial crimes will occur in some form or another. Professionals Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists greatly reduce the efficacy of criminal activities.


About the Author: Marcus Maltempo is a compliance professional with more than a decade of experience helping banks, law firms and clients manage investigations and regulatory responses.
He tweets @MoneyCompliance