A former FBI agent was arrested for collaborating with a Russian oligarch

The Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)
The Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who investigated Russian oligarchs was accused of secretly working for one of them, in violation of US sanctions. The official was also accused, in a separate indictment, of taking cash of a former foreign security officer.

Charles McGonigal, the special agent in charge of the counterintelligence division of the FBI in New York from 2016 to 2018, is accused of working with a former Soviet diplomat turned Russian interpreter on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire allegedly referred to in the code as “the big guy” and “the client.”

McGonigal, who had overseen and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska, worked to get Deripaska’s sanctions lifted in 2019 and took money from him in 2021 to investigate a rival oligarch, the Justice Department said.

The indictment is a blow to the FBI at a time when the office has become embroiled in separate politically charged investigations involving the handling of classified documents by both the president Joe Biden like the former president donald trumpand when the new rising Republicans in Congress have vowed to investigate high-profile decisions by the office and the Justice Department.

McGonigal and the interpreter, Sergey Shestakov, were arrested Saturday: McGonigal after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport and Shestakov at his home in Morris, Connecticut. They are scheduled to appear in court in Manhattan on Monday. Both are being held in a federal jail in Brooklyn.

McGonigal, 54, and Shestakov, 69, are charged with violate and conspire to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspire to commit money laundering and money laundering. Shestakov is also charged with making material misstatements to the FBI.

McGonigal was charged separately in federal court in Washington, DC with concealing at least $225,000 cash which he allegedly received from a former Albanian intelligence official while working for the FBI.

The indictment does not charge or characterize the payment to McGonigal as a bribe, but federal prosecutors say that while concealing the payment from the FBI, he took actions as an FBI supervisor that were aimed at his own financial gain.

Christopher Wray (REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)
Christopher Wray (REUTERS/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

They included proposing that a pharmaceutical company pay the man’s company $500,000 in exchange for scheduling a business meeting involving a representative of the US delegation to the United Nations.

In an office-wide email Monday, FBI director Christopher Wraysaid McGonigal’s alleged conduct “is completely inconsistent with what I see of the men and women of the FBI who demonstrate every day through their actions that they are worthy of the public’s trust.”

The US Treasury Department added Deripaska to its sanctions list in 2018 for alleged ties to the Russian government and Russia’s energy sector amid continued Russian threats to Ukraine.

In September, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Deripaska and three associates with conspiring to violate US sanctions by conspiring to ensure that his son was born in the United States.

Shestakov, who worked as an interpreter for federal and prosecutorial courts in New York City after retire as a diplomat in 1993, helped connect McGonigal to Deripaska, according to the indictment.

In 2018, while McGonigal was still working for the FBI, Shestakov introduced him to a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who was functioning as Deripaska’s agent, according to the indictment. That person is not named in court documents, but the Justice Department says “he was rumored in public media reports to be a Russian intelligence officer.”

According to the indictment, Shestakov asked McGonigal to help him the agent’s daughter did an internship in the counterterrorism and intelligence units of the New York Police Department. McGonigal agreed, prosecutors say, telling a police department contact that “I have an interest in his father for a number of reasons.”

According to the indictment, a police sergeant later informed the NYPD and the FBI that the woman claimed to have a “unusually close relationship” with an FBI agent who, he said, had given him access to confidential FBI files. The sergeant found it “unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and the FBI,” the indictment says.

After retiring from the FBI, according to the indictment, McGonigal began working in 2019 as a consultant and investigator for an international law firm seeking to reverse Deripaska’s sanctions, a process known as “delisting”. The law firm paid McGonigal $25,000 through a corporation owned by Shestakov, prosecutors say, though the work was ultimately disrupted by factors including the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, according to the indictment, Deripaska’s agent recruited McGonigal and Shestakov to unearth a rival oligarch, with whom Deripaska was fighting for control of a large Russian corporation, in exchange for $51,280 in advance and $41,790 per month paid through a Russian bank to a New Jersey company owned by McGonigal’s friend. McGonigal kept his friend in the dark about the true nature of the payments, prosecutors say.

McGonigal is also accused of withholding from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip he took to Albania with the former Albanian intelligence official who allegedly gave him at least $225,000.

While there, according to the Justice Department, McGonigal met with the Albanian prime minister and urged caution in granting licenses to Russian front companies to drill oil fields in the country. McGonigal’s Albanian contacts had a financial interest in those decisions.

In one example of how McGonigal allegedly confused personal gain with professional responsibilities, prosecutors in Washington say he “caused” the FBI’s New York office to open a criminal lobbying investigation in which the former Albanian intelligence official was to serve as a confidential human source.

McGonigal did so, prosecutors allege, without disclosing to the FBI or Justice Department his financial connections to the man.

(With information from AP)

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