Anti-Money Laundering (AML)

The last week of March has brought new measures against Maduro’s regime from the U.S., Europe, and Latin-America. While Switzerland has aligned with European Union (EU) sanctions, Panama has included Venezuelan government officials and several companies in their Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs) list. The State of Florida has also enacted divestment laws targeting Venezuela.

Florida Actions: On March 29, Governor Rick Scott of Florida signed into law HB 359, stating that the State Board of Administration shall divest any funds and is prohibited from investing in any institution or company (U.S. company or its subsidiary), doing business in or with the Government of Venezuela (GoV), or with any agency or instrumentality thereof, in violation of federal law. It is unclear how Florida will assess whether a company has undertaken an activity “in violation of Federal law” and, specifically, whether it will wait for Federal indictments, or whether it will be making an independent state-level assessment.

Panama Actions: On March 27, Panama published a list of PEPs with ties to the GoV. Although the press has described this measure as “sanctions” against the Maduro regime, on its face, the measure only requires financial institutions to conduct enhanced due diligence (EDD) in certain persons considered as high risk due to its political exposure. This new resolution from the Panamanian National Anti-Money Laundering Commission (AML Commission) imposes for the first time in Panama the need to conduct EDD on specific Venezuelan government officials and related companies. Among the due diligence measures the AML Commission requires financial institutions and other regulated persons to investigate is whether any PEPs from Venezuela are directly or indirectly participating in a given transaction.

In a separate resolution, the AML Commission decided it will make the U.S., Canadian, and U.K. denied party lists available on the AML Commission’s webpage. This way financial institutions and other regulated persons can use them as a reference for enhanced due diligence when dealing with individuals on one or more of the lists.

Switzerland Actions: On March 28, Switzerland adopted restrictive measures which align with the measures adopted by the EU on November 13, 2017, and January 22, 2018, as a result of the human rights violations and the undermining of democracy in Venezuela. Swiss sanctions, which usually follow the respective EU sanctions regime, now do so in the case of Venezuela. Switzerland has also imposed an embargo on military equipment that could be used for internal repression, as well as equipment used for surveillance purposes. Swiss measures also include a travel ban, an asset freeze, and a prohibition to make funds available to certain individuals. Institutions or persons having or managing assets that are subject to the asset-freeze must report it to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) without delay. The list of individuals subject to the asset-freeze and the travel ban can be found here. These measures entered into force on March 28.

These new Swiss sanctions may have an outsized impact because, while less broad than U.S. sanctions, Venezuelan officials are thought to have assets in Switzerland.

Venezuelan Response: The GoV condemned both the Swiss and Panamanian measures, identifying them as illegal coercive measures against Maduro’s regime.

Further, the GoV announced the suspension of its commercial relations with several Panamanian officials and companies, including Copa Airlines. The retaliatory measure forced Copa to suspend its flights into Venezuela, despite being one of the few airlines still operating in the country after most airlines canceled or reduced their services due to currency exchange restrictions combined with security concerns in the country. By virtue of these controls, Venezuela reportedly owes foreign airlines around $ 4 billion. Depending on how their investments are structured into the country, airlines – and other companies in the same situation – may have the ability to make claims against the GoV for their stranded funds under free transfer provisions found in numerous Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with Venezuela.

For more information on how BITs may aid in the recovery of monies owed by Venezuela, please click here for a short paper in English and Spanish.