Geneva-based air transport IT firm Société Internationale de Télécommunications (SITA) has agreed to pay USD7,829,640 to settle its potential liability for 9,256 “apparent” sanctions violations spotted by the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Specifically, SITA was said to have violated Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations 594.201 and 594.204 between April 2013 and February 2018, when it provided commercial services and software that were subject to US jurisdiction, OFAC said in a statement dated February 26.

During this period the services benefitted SITA member airlines Caspian Airlines and Mahan Air, both from Iran, and Syria’s Syrianair after OFAC had designated them as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT), the office elaborated in an enforcement notice on the same date.

During OFAC’s investigation, SITA also revealed dealings with Iran’s Meraj Air and Iraq’s Al-Naser Airlines, which OFAC designated as SDGTs in August 2014 and May 2015, respectively.

SITA services alleged to have been provided to the airlines were subject to US jurisdiction because they were provided from or through the United States or were of US origin.

These included Type B messaging (TBM), which involves airline industry messages routed through Atlanta, Georgia; Maestro DCS Local, a US-origin software application to manage processes such as check-in and baggage; and WorldTracer, a global lost baggage tracing and matching system hosted on SITA’s servers in the United States.

OFAC deemed the case “non-egregious”, although the maximum civil monetary penalty applicable was more than USD2.45 billion. The total transactional value of the alleged violations was USD2.4 million, the agency said.

The settlement amount of USD7,829,640 reflects several aggravating and mitigating factors. Among the former was that SITA had actual knowledge that it was providing services and software directly or indirectly to SDGTs.

Mitigating factors included the fact that SITA had not received a penalty notice in the five years preceding the date of the earliest transactions, that the transactions represented a small percentage of SITA’s overall business, and that SITA had “implemented extensive remedial efforts and enhancements to its compliance program, customer and supplier screening, and its expulsion of Mahan, Syrian, and Caspian from the organization”.

SITA has pledged to set up a global trade board to monitor and vet compliance risk, has established a trade compliance committee to act as an information sharing and advisory body on trade and sanctions law affecting SITA and its members, and has committed to monitoring and auditing its messaging, Maestro, and WorldTracer systems to verify they are not being used to support SDGT airlines.

“This enforcement action highlights the benefits companies operating in high-risk industries can realize by implementing effective, thorough, and ongoing risk-based compliance measures, especially when engaging in transactions concerning the aviation industry,” OFAC said.

SITA commented in a statement: “SITA has worked with OFAC and agreed a settlement in relation to business activities over the past number of years. This settlement takes into account SITA’s proactiveness in communicating with and approaching OFAC, our co-operation and the remedial actions we have already taken. SITA conducts all its business lawfully and in accordance with the highest ethical standards.”

“Compliance is a priority for SITA as we serve the air travel community and support airlines wherever they fly, across more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. We will continue to invest in compliance personnel and systems, employee training, and risk-based compliance measures to mitigate the risk of non-compliance in this ever-changing environment. Today, we can proudly say that SITA has an industry-leading and robust trade sanctions compliance program in place which is fully implemented across our entire company.”

Editorial Comment: Added SITA statement - 28.02.2020 - 08:57 UTC