Panama Covid-19 update – another year, but the pandemic lingers on. Panama, or at least where we are, is in a lockdown that began at 7 pm on New Year’s Eve and lasts until 4 January. We then enter a further set of lockdowns and gender-based restrictions until(at least) 14 January…but, hey, isn’t the vaccine on the way?
Numbers of tests and new cases have fallen (which may, of course, be due to the holidays), with 2,943 new cases and 42 more fatalities. There are 47,741 active cases, with still too many in hospital – 204 in ICU and 2,067 in other wards. 11,297 tests were carried out, with a hit rate of 26%.
1 JANUARY 2021
UK – UKRAINE SANCTIONS GENERAL LICENCE
On 1 January, OFSI published a General Licence under which persons may make payment(s) out of non-frozen funds to the State Unitary Enterprise of the Crimean Republic ‘Crimean Sea Ports’ for services provided at the ports of Kerch Fishery Port, Yalta Commercial Port and Evpatoria Commercial Port, and for services provided by Gosgidrografiya and by Port-Terminal branches of the Crimean Sea Ports. It also permits persons to be reimbursed out of non-frozen funds for such payments. This is the only General Licence issued by OFSI so far.
SINGAPORE POLICE ARREST 230 FOR ROLE IN SCAMS INVOLVING $2.19 MILLION
On 31 Dceember, The Star in Malaysia reported that a 2-week police operation conducted in December resulted in the arrest of 230 people for their role in different scams in which victims lost more than S$2.9 million. The ruses involved social media impersonation, Internet love scams, cheats using fake gambling and loan platforms as well as e-commerce fraudulent deals. Some of the suspects were also picked up for being money mules.
MEXICO SET TO BECOME WORLD’S LARGEST LEGAL CANNABIS MARKET
On 1 January, KYC 360 reported that Mexico is home to the world’s most powerful drug cartels, who have terrorised the country for years. But the country is poised to try something different in tackling the gangs by legalizing at least one of their products: marijuana. Currently in Mexico, one can possess up to 5 grams of marijuana without being arrested. The use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legal since 2017. Mexico’s supreme court ruled in 2018 that marijuana prohibition was unconstitutional. Authorities expect that Mexico’s legalisation for recreational use will increase competition, bring prices down and reduce the black market for drug gangs.
INDIA: GEM DEALERS TO MAINTAIN RECORDS OF CASH TRANSACTIONS
On 1 January, The Telegraph reported that dealers of precious metals and stones will have to maintain records of cash transactions worth Rs 10 lakh (c. $13,000) or more cumulatively with a single customer. The finance ministry has notified such dealers in precious metals and stones and also real estate agents with over Rs 20 lakh turnover. It is said that the amendment notifying dealers in precious metals and stones aims to plug the loophole wherein cash transactions up to Rs 2 lakh without KYC were allowed in the gems and jewellery sector.
A SHADY ISRAELI INTEL GENIUS, HIS CYBER-SPY VAN AND MILLION-DOLLAR DEALS
On 1 January, KYC 360 reported about Tal Dilian, described as “one of the oldest hands in the often murky world of cyber surveillance” and a van seized by Cypriot authorities which suspected that the vehicle was meant for commercial espionage. The van was said to be to hack into smartphones within a radius of 500 meters from the vehicle. In May, a Cypriot newspaper reported that Dilian had been detained in March and that the investigation against him was still open. An Israeli, he lives in Cyprus. He is also being sued in a Tel Aviv Court by high-tech entrepreneur Avi Rubinstein.
CHINA’S BANKING REGULATOR: US SANCTIONS HAVE NO LEGAL EFFECT ON THE MAINLAND AND HONG KONG
On 1 January, the Global Times reported that US sanctions have no legal effect on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong, according to the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) in a statement .
MEXICO SECURITY FORCES’ SEIZURES OF FENTANYL RISE BY 486% IN A YEAR
On 31 December, the Guardian reported that seizure of fentanyl by Mexican security forces have increased by at least 486% in 2020, the country’s defence secretary has announced. Mexico’s military and police forces seized an estimated 1.3 tonnes of the synthetic opioid this year, compared to 222 kg in 2019. Meth seizures also rose by 6% to 34 tonnes in 2020. Meth is produced for the US market, but also has become widely consumed in Mexico. Cocaine seizures were up about 45%, to around 27.5 tonnes, but marijuana seizures rose only 6% to about 244 tonnes.
BREXIT: BRITISH RESIDENTS ARE NO LONGER BE ABLE TO USE A EUROPEAN FIREARMS PASS.
On 31 December, a news release from the Home Office advised that residents of Great Britain who want to travel to the EU with their firearms or shotguns can no longer apply for a European Firearms Pass (EFP).
TAIPEI COUPLE CONVICTED OF DEFRAUDING 12 BANKS
On 1 January, the Taiwan Times reported that Yang Wen-hu and his wife, Wang Ying-chih, co-owners of New Site Industries, have been sentenced to 26 years and 28 years respectively. They were convicted of involvement in $1.66 billion of defaulted loans from 12 banks — said to be Taiwan’s largest-ever bank fraud case. 34 of their employees and other people charged with colluding with them received shorter sentences, mostly less than 4 years.
CHINA JAILS 29 TAIWANESE DEPORTED FROM SPAIN FOR FRAUD
On 1 January, the Taiwan Times reported that a court in Beijing has sentenced 29 people from Taiwan to up to 14 years in prison for telecom fraud. They had been deported from Spain and the article says that, in recent years, hundreds of Taiwanese suspected of telecom fraud have been deported to China, sometimes forcibly, from countries including Kenya, Cambodia and Armenia, according to the Taiwanese government.
EX OFFICIALS FROM BOLIVIA’S DE FACTO REGIME WILL BE PUT TO TRIAL
On 31 December, Prensa Latina reported that former officials of the de facto government that followed a coup in the country are to be prosecuted for the illegal purchase of medical supplies under the pretext of using them against the Covid-19 but the real intention was to pocketing money. Equipment of Spanish and Chinese origin was to be obtained at a premium and without meeting the technical specifications.
BELARUS CHARGES LEADERS OF INDEPENDENT PRESS CLUB WITH TAX CRIMES AS CRACKDOWN CONTINUES
On 31 December, Rferl reported that the founder of an independent Belarusian press group and several associates taken into custody have been charged with tax evasion and related crimes. The detentions came days after the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed Belarus as a country where authorities have significantly increased their arrests of journalists in recent months. Since August, at least 373 journalists have been arrested in Belarus.
UK SANCTIONS: BOSNIA-HERZOGOVINA
On 1 January, HM Treasury issued a news release saying that Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently subject to UK financial sanctions, but that, to date, no targets have been designated.
US CONGRESS MEMBERS RAISE CONCERNS OVER US TREASURY’S CRYPTOCURRENCY RULE
On 1 January, Finance Magnates reported that 8 members of Congress have sent a letter demanding a comment period extension of the proposed FinCEN regulation for cryptocurrency assets. The letter states that the 15-day comment period that was allowed is too short to have a meaningful discussion on the newly proposed cryptocurrency KYC rules. The members have asked the Treasury Secretary to delay the implementation of the proposed rule by at least 6 months to give all stakeholders an appropriate timeframe to develop the technological solutions that will be required to implement any final rule.
BREXIT TRADE DEAL ALLOWS DATA TRANSFERS TO CONTINUE (FOR NOW)
On 31 December, an article from White & Case said that the Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement provides a temporary solution to allow the continued transfer of personal data from the EEA to the UK without the need for additional compliance measures, while the European Commission considers an adequacy decision in respect of the UK.
USE OF FAKE IDENTITIES ON THE INTERNET?
On 31 December, an article from Thompson Coburn LLP considered a US court case in which the question arose: can you use a false identity to deceive someone when you are selling something by email? After careful deliberation, the court held that under federal law, such conduct was both criminal and deceitful. It is said that many people believe that everyone has an absolute right to cloak his or her identity on the Internet, and the judges involved felt they had to tread carefully in burdening the use of anonymity or false identities on the Internet, because of “troubling constitutional and practical consequences”. The case involved a man who ran an online penny stock scheme and who was ordered expelled from the US. He challenged this ruling, claiming that his conviction did not involve fraud or deceit (the justification, under immigration laws, for his expulsion order). This forced the court to examine certain provisions of CAN-SPAM, the federal law regulating unsolicited commercial email. The article proposes that future cases involving use of fake identities in social media and in disinformation campaigns should start from the simple and unarguable holding in this case, that material and harmful deceit can and should be prohibited and prosecuted.
UK EXPORT CONTROLS: TORTURE AND CAPITAL PUNISHMENT GOODS
On 1 January, the Department for International Trade issued guidance saying that goods are subject to export prohibitions or controls from the UK if they can be used for torture, capital punishment and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. These goods are controlled by the Torture Goods Regulations. Goods controlled by the Regulations include drugs used in executions by lethal injection. The export of pancuronium bromide and propofol to the US is also controlled under UK legislation.
BREXIT: THE BORDER OPERATING MODEL
On 31 December, the Cabinet Office reissued guidance on how the UK (or GB) border with the EU will work after from 1 January. It is said that traders and hauliers must continue to take the steps outlined in the Border Operating Model, which will be updated in line with new agreements and updated, for example to provide more information on Rules of Origin but the actions already outlined will remain the same. Case studies have been created to represent end-to-end scenarios that will happen between GB and EU, importing and exporting goods from January 2021.
UK: LICENCES THAT ALLOW ACTIVITY PROHIBITED BY FINANCIAL SANCTIONS
On 1 January, in the light of the end of the Brexit transition period, HM Treasury issued updated guidance saying that any person or organisation involved in a transaction with those subject to financial sanctions will first need a licence from OFSI.
BREXIT – CROSS-BORDER CIVIL AND COMMERCIAL LEGAL CASES: GUIDANCE FOR LEGAL PROFESSIONALS
On 31 December, the MoJ issued guidance for legal professionals about cross-border civil and commercial legal cases. It only relates to cases involving the courts of England and Wales.
NEW YORK LABOUR LEADER ACCUSED OF TIES WITH ORGANISED CRIME
On 1 January, an article from OCCRP reported claims that James Cahill, an American labour leader who was arrested in October on bribery charges, had extensive connections to organised crime, including the famous Gambino Family, the Westies, an Irish gang that once operated in Manhattan, and Group America, a Serbian drug trafficking gang. Cahill, the president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council which represents more than 200,000 unionised construction workers, together with 10 others, was indicted in October with racketeering and fraud.
RACE CAR FRAUDS: BEWARE OF COMPETITORS WITH NO SPONSORS
On 30 December, Road & Track warns one to be wary of drivers who appear from nowhere with expensive race cars bearing no visible sponsorship. It refers to Randy Lanier, the 1980s IMSA sports car champion whose sponsor-free machines were secretly funded by a drug trafficking enterprise. It then refers to 2 cars in 2019-20, one “sponsored” by a Medicare fraudster, involving Juan Camilo Perez Buitrago, 31, who has pleaded guilty to health care fraud and payment of kickbacks in connection with a federal health care programme.
HOW SCAMMERS SIPHONED $36 BILLION IN FRAUDULENT UNEMPLOYMENT PAYMENTS FROM US
On 30 December, USA Today reported that Coronavirus-era unemployment fraud was first identified in the state of Washington in May and since has spread to all 50 states. It is said that, in addition to the volume of legitimate claims during COVID-19 and public pressure to speed up payments, mobile banking apps and prepaid debit cards issued by some state unemployment offices paved the way for fraud this year. States for years had prepared for low-level fraud, focusing on whether actual state residents filing for unemployment were telling the truth. The recent wave of imposter fraud – including from overseas – caught them off guard.
FBI COUNTERTERRORISM INFORMANT SPENT A DECADE COMMITTING FRAUD
On 30 December, The Intercept carried an article saying that while working to ensnare Muslims in FBI stings, Mohammed Agbareia preyed on the Islamic community as a con man. He was finally arrested in 2017 and deported to Israel from the US in 2019. In all, the FBI paid Agbareia, an Arab Israeli citizen, $121,962 over nearly 10 years and kept him from the clutches of immigration authorities. In return, he befriended Muslims the FBI was interested in knowing more about, and from April 2015 to July 2016, he played a key role in an FBI sting that led to the arrest and conviction of 3 converts to Islam for supporting the Islamic State group.
CONGRESS OVERRIDES TRUMP’S VETO OF DEFENSE BILL INCLUDING CORPORATE TRANSPARENCY ACT
1 January, Government Executive reported that Senate lawmakers voted 81-13 on New Year’s Day to override President Trump’s veto of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act just days after the House of Representatives did the same in a 322-87 vote in that chamber. It was the first time Congress has voted to override Trump’s veto of legislation. The Defense Bill includes the Corporate Transparency Act and its beneficial ownership declaration provisions, and provisions to regulate the antiquities market for AML/CFT purposes.
UK: CHECK IF A BUSINESS IS REGISTERED FOR MONEY LAUNDERING SUPERVISION
On 1 January, HMRC issued updated information on how to verify that a business is registered with HMRC for supervision under the Money Laundering Regulations.
US CONGRESS POISED TO APPLY BANKING REGULATIONS TO ANTIQUITIES MARKET
On 1 January, the New York Times reported that the antiquities trade, which regulators have long feared provided fertile ground for money laundering and other illicit activities, will be subject to greater oversight under legislation. This is after Congress overrode President Trump’s veto on the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains the Corporate Transparency Act. The latter faced opposition from antiquities dealers, who baulked at the requirement to disclose client information and at the added costs of complying with the law. The new legislation calls for a study on the role of art in money laundering and terror financing. If the study finds a link between the art market and illicit activity, it could, upon Congressional review, trigger the creation of rules similar to the ones now concerning the antiquities trade.
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