American Express reached a settlement with the U.S. Treasury Department after neglecting to get the proper approval for over 14,000 airplane tickets it dispensed for travel between Cuba and other foreign countries.
American Express Travel Related Services, Inc. agreed Monday to pay $5.2 million to settle potential civil liability for apparent federal violations. The Treasury Department found that foreign branch offices and subsidiaries of American Express issued about 14,487 tickets for travel to and from the island between December 2005 and November 2011.
Those bookings were an apparent violation of the Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The rules issued in 1963 prohibit financial transactions by banking institutions under U.S. jurisdiction in which Cuba or its citizens have an interest.
"We voluntarily self-disclosed these bookings to OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control), and put in place robust controls to ensure it would not recur," American Express spokeswoman Diana Postemsky said in a written statement.
American Express can provide travel service arrangements for authorized trips to the island, but the bookings in question were never approved by the federal government.
It's not the first time American Express has come under federal scrutiny for its handling of Cuba-related travel. The company was investigated in 1995 and 1996 for similar violations committed by a subsidiary that had recently been acquired, according to the Treasury Department.
Federal officials said American Express showed "reckless disregard" for the regulations.
"The apparent violations caused significant harm to U.S. sanctions program objectives regarding Cuba," the Treasury Department said in announcing the settlement.
The Treasury Department said American Express continued to book travel to and from Cuba for many of its corporate clients following the 2010 disclosure of the violations. The department said the company also never implemented the remedial measures it pledged to implement after the 1995 and 1996 investigation.
American Express is one of the largest travel service providers for authorized Cuba travel, according to the Treasury Department.
U.S. citizens are prohibited from traveling to Cuba as tourists, though they can travel for religious, educational or cultural visits if granted a specific license by the Treasury Department. So called "people-to-people" travel was reinstated by the Obama administration in 2011.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.