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U.S. fines online travel company for Cuba trips

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Online travel company Travelocity has been fined $182,750 for booking trips between the United States and Cuba in violation of the trade embargo enforced by Washington since 1962, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday.

People enjoy a day on the beach in Havana, August 12, 2006. Online travel company Travelocity has been fined $182,750 for booking trips between the United States and Cuba in violation of the trade embargo enforced by Washington since 1962, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

In the first such crackdown on a major online travel service, the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the company violated the embargo 1,458 times between January 1998 and April 2004.

“Travelocity provided travel-related services in which Cuba or Cuban nationals had an interest by arranging air travel and hotel reservations to, from, with or within Cuba without an OFAC license,” the office said in a statement posted on the Treasury’s Web site on Friday.

Treasury spokeswoman Molly Millerwise declined to provide details but said that any person or business that violates sanctions against Cuba may face civil or criminal penalties.

American laws punish companies and individuals who trade or travel to Cuba without a U.S. government license. The ban on unlicensed travel to Cuba has been enforced more strictly by U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration.

Travelocity spokesman Joel Frey said the company had unwittingly booked trips to Cuba due to technical problems and had not applied for a license.

“The trips to Cuba were unintentionally permitted to be booked by consumers online because of some technical failures several years ago and it’s just now being finally settled with OFAC,” he said in a statement.

“In no way did the company intend to allow bookings for trips to Cuba and the company has fully cooperated with OFAC and implemented corrective measures,” Frey added.

Texas-based Travelocity is owned by Sabre Holdings and is a popular online travel site in the United States, with more than $1 billion in revenues last year.

In another case, American Express Travel Related Services Co., Inc. agreed to pay a $16,625 fine after a subsidiary in Mexico sold travel packages to Cuba, a popular tourist destination in the Caribbean, OFAC said.

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