On November 28, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced a $362,158 settlement with a global virtual currency exchange for allegedly exporting services to users who appeared to be located in Iran when they engaged in virtual currency transactions on the exchange’s platform. According to OFAC’s web notice, the exchange’s platform allows users to buy, sell, hold, or exchange cryptocurrencies. Users can also trade fiat currency for cryptocurrency on the platform. The exchange’s anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance program screens customers at onboarding and daily thereafter, and reviews information about IP addresses generated at the time of onboarding to prevent users in sanctioned jurisdictions from opening accounts and conducting transactions. OFAC stated, however, that between October 2015 and June 2019, the exchange allegedly processed 826 transactions totaling roughly $1.6 million on behalf of individuals who appeared to be in Iran when the transactions happened. OFAC maintained that because the exchange failed to implement IP address blocking on transactional activity across its platform, “account holders who established their accounts outside of sanctioned jurisdictions appear to have accessed their accounts and transacted on Kraken’s platform from a sanctioned jurisdiction.” As a result, the exchange allegedly violated the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.
In arriving at the settlement amount, OFAC determined that the exchange failed to exercise due caution or care for its sanctions compliance obligations by only applying its geolocation controls at the time of onboarding and not with respect to subsequent transactional activity even though it knew customers were located worldwide.
OFAC also considered various mitigating factors, including that the exchange has not received a penalty notice from OFAC in the preceding five years, the exchange voluntarily self-disclosed the alleged violations and undertook significant remedial measures, such as (i) “adding geolocation blocking to prevent clients in prohibited locations from accessing their accounts” on the exchange’s platform; (ii) implementing blockchain analysis tools to assist with sanctions monitoring; (iii) expanding staff and providing compliance training; (iv) adding “additional screening capabilities to ensure compliance with OFAC’s ‘50 Percent Rule,’ including detailed reports on beneficial ownership; (v) contracting a vendor to assist with the identification and nationality verification through the use of artificial intelligence tools; and (vi) implementing automated controls designed to block certain accounts. In addition, the exchange agreed to invest an additional $100,000 in certain sanctions compliance controls as part of the settlement.
Providing context for the settlement, OFAC stated that this action “highlights the importance of using geolocation tools, including IP blocking and other location verification tools, to identify and prevent users located in sanctioned jurisdictions from engaging in prohibited virtual currency-related transactions”—both at the time of onboarding and throughout the lifetime of the account.