FinCEN Warns Financial Institutions to Guard against Corrupt Venezuelan Money

On September 20, the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued an Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela, warning financial institutions of methods that Venezuelan government officials may be using to flow money related to corruption into the U.S.

The advisory alert provides financial red flags to assist financial institutions in identifying and reporting suspicious activities possibly related to corruption involving the Venezuelan government, Venezuelan officials, or Venezuelan state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The alert gives examples of activities which may be indicative of Venezuelan corruption, such as abusive Venezuelan government contracts, wire transfers from shell corporations, and certain real estate purchases in South Florida and Houston, Texas.

Financial Sanctions Similar to Russia Sectoral Sanctions

As previously reported, on August 25 President Trump issued an Executive Order prohibiting U.S. companies from dealing in new debt with the Government of Venezuela and Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) for a maturity of more than 30 and 90 days, respectively. In a new development, on October 3, OFAC published an FAQ explaining what constitutes "profit" for the purposes of Subsection 1(a)(vi) of the E.O.

These new sanctions against Venezuela resemble the U.S. sectoral sanctions on Russian energy and finance sectors issued by OFAC in July 2014. Of particular importance, both sets of sanctions define "new debt" broadly, including, for example, extensions of credit. The new financial sanctions would also require U.S. companies to conduct further due diligence to identify Venezuelan customers that are owned 50 percent or more by either the Government of Venezuela or PDVSA.

For more details on the E.O. issued by President Trump on August 24, see Crowell & Moring’s Client Alert.

Canada Sanctions

On September 5, Canada issued Special Economic Measures Regulations on Venezuela, imposing targeted sanctions against 40 Venezuelan officials and individuals. The list includes most of the names that the U.S. Government has added as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs).

In view of the escalated sanctions on Venezuela, companies doing business with Venezuelan government agencies or SOEs should monitor developments relating to possible future measures by the U.S. and/or other countries against Venezuela.