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Home World News Washington Post World News Former senior FBI official accused of working for Russian, he investigated

Former senior FBI official accused of working for Russian, he investigated



NEW YORK — The former New York FBI’s top spy hunter was charged Monday with taking secret cash payments of more than $225,000 while overseeing highly sensitive cases, and breaking the law by trying to frame Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. from a US sanctions list – allegations that shocked the secluded world of his fellow senior intelligence officials.

Charles McGonigal, 54, who retired from the FBI in September 2018, was indicted in federal court in Manhattan on charges of money laundering, U.S. sanctions violations and other matters arising from his alleged ties to Deripaska, an ally of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his role at the FBI, McGonigal had been tasked with investigating Deripaska, whose own indictment for sanctions violations was unsealed in September.

A second indictment, filed in Washington, charged McGonigal with concealing payments totaling $225,000 that he allegedly received from a New Jersey man employed by an Albanian intelligence agency decades ago. The indictment also accused him of acting to advance that person’s best interests.

McGonigal’s alleged crimes could undermine efforts by the Justice Department to step up economic sanctions against wealthy Russians after last year’s invasion of Ukraine. The dual indictments are also a black eye for the FBI, which alleges that one of the highest-ranking and most trusted intelligence officials accepted large sums of money and undermined the agency’s overall intelligence-gathering mission.

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McGonigal was arrested by agents at the agency where he had worked for 22 years and where he rose to become one of the most important counterintelligence positions in the US government. Given his former role, the investigation was led by FBI agents based in Los Angeles and DC rather than New York.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the case showed that the FBI was doing its duty. “The way we maintain the trust of the American people is through our work – by showing, when all the facts come out, that we have adhered to the process and treated everyone equally, even if it is one of us. is,” Wray said. said in a statement. “We hold ourselves to the highest standard and our focus remains on our mission and on doing the right thing, the right way, every time.”

Through his attorney, Seth DuCharme, McGonigal pleaded not guilty to the charges in New York during a brief trial Monday, where he was released on bail. DuCharme, a former Justice Department official who recently served as acting U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said outside the courthouse that he looks forward to reviewing the evidence, “but we have a lot of faith in Mr. McGonigal.”

“As you all know, Charlie has had a long and distinguished career with the FBI. He served the United States for decades,” DuCharme said. “This is clearly a distressing day for Mr. McGonigal and his family.”

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McGonigal will appear in federal court in DC on Wednesday. In that case, prosecutors alleged that as of at least August 2017 — and still after his retirement from the FBI — McGonigal did not disclose to the FBI his relationship with the former Albanian intelligence operative, described in the indictment as “Person A.” . He also allegedly failed to disclose that he had an “ongoing relationship with the prime minister of Albania,” the indictment said. Since 2013, Edi Rama has been the Prime Minister of that country.

In late 2017, according to authorities, McGonigal received cash payments totaling $225,000 from Person A — the first time in a parked car outside a New York City restaurant and the next two times at the person’s home in New Jersey. According to the indictment, McGonigal “indicated Person A that the money would be refunded.”

Months later, at McGonigal’s urging, the FBI opened an investigation into an American lobbyist for an Albanian political party rival to Rama, an investigation using Person A as a source of information, authorities said.

That wasn’t the only case where the charges suggest McGonigal used his job to benefit people with whom he had secret financial or personal relationships.

During a 2017 trip to Austria, McGonigal and a Justice Department prosecutor interviewed an Albanian businessman and politician who previously told McGonigal they wanted someone to investigate a death threat against them, according to the Washington indictment. McGonigal had been introduced to that person by Person A, the charge.

Read the indictment of Charles McGonigal in Washington, DC

The following year, McGonigal allegedly asked the FBI’s liaison at the United Nations to arrange a meeting with the then US ambassador, Nikki Haley, or another senior official, as well as a former Bosnian defense minister and founder of a Bosnian pharmaceutical company.

The indictment says that McGonigal’s associates who sought a meeting for political reasons allegedly benefited Person A financially. At that point, the indictment, McGonigal suggested that the pharmaceutical company pay half a million dollars to a company registered in Person A’s name as compensation for arranging the meeting.

Current and former US officials who know and have worked with McGonigal said they were shocked by the charges. As a senior FBI counterintelligence officer, McGonigal had access to an extraordinary amount of sensitive information, which may have included investigations of foreign spies or U.S. citizens suspected of working on behalf of foreign governments, these people said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the work that McGonigal did. A former official said McGonigal had worked with the CIA on counterintelligence cases.

According to the New York indictment, a law firm hired McGonigal to work as a consultant and investigator on the effort to remove Deripaska from the sanctions list. He was listed as an advisor and arranged for monthly payments of $25,000 to be transferred to an account managed by another person, an interpreter for the US government who was a former Russian diplomat. The interpreter, Sergey Shestakov, was also charged.

McGonigal’s role with the FBI gave him access to classified information, including a then-secret list of Russian prospects for sanctions by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the Justice Department said. Deripaska was on that list before the sanctions were actually imposed.

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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement that McGonigal and Shestakov “should have known better” given their government service experience. Shestakov also pleaded not guilty.

D.C. U.S. attorney Matthew M. Graves called the alleged cover-up of foreign contacts and financial relations a “gateway to corruption,” and credited the FBI for its handling of the “delicate and difficult” investigation of a former senior officer.

McGonigal allegedly committed the same violations he vowed to investigate while claiming to lead a workforce of FBI employees who spend their entire careers protecting secrets and holding foreign adversaries accountable. director of the FBI in charge of the Los Angeles field office. , Donald Alway, who announced the charges along with Graves and the leaders of the DC FBI Office and the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Asked about the case Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland declined to comment.

McGonigal faces a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison for the two D.C. charges of falsifying records and documents, and up to five years in prison for each of the seven charges of concealment of material facts or making false statements. The most serious charge in the New York indictment carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.

McGonigal joined the FBI in 1996 and has worked in New York, Washington, Baltimore and Cleveland. Along the way, he was involved in some of the most sensitive and high-profile intelligence cases in the US government, including the conviction of former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger for knowingly removing classified documents from the National Archives. In 2010, McGonigal was brought in to lead the task force investigating the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Read the New York indictment against former senior FBI official Charles McGonigal

The accusations against McGonigal disturbed his former colleagues in part because of his deep knowledge of so many elements of American espionage. McGonigal was an expert on Russian intelligence activities targeting the United States, as well as US efforts to recruit Russian spies, said several former intelligence officials who worked with him, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive matters.

His position at the New York field office would have given him direct access to past and current recruiting efforts, work that was coordinated with the CIA, these people said. McGonigal was well known to the CIA among officers dealing with Russia and counterintelligence matters, and he knew the details of some intelligence operations targeting Russia, former officials said.

McGonigal has not been charged with espionage, but former officials who worked with him said his knowledge and experience would have put him at high risk of being recruited by a foreign government.

A former official noted that McGonigal was leading an investigation into why numerous individuals in China who spied for the United States were arrested and decommissioned. As part of that investigation, McGonigal would have known details about the secret systems the CIA used to communicate with its agents, the former official said. Those systems are believed to have played a central role in exposing the agents to the government.

Deripaska has been a focus of FBI investigative work for many years. In 2021, officers searched two homes associated with him, one in DC and the other in New York. At the time, a spokeswoman for the aluminum magnate said the properties belonged to his relatives.

A politically connected billionaire, Deripaska repeatedly came forward in recent U.S. investigations implicating Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. For years, Deripaska did business with Paul Manafort, whose tenure as Trump campaign chairman became an intense focus in FBI investigations. to investigate.

Manafort and Deripaska have both confirmed that they had a business relationship in which Manafort was paid as an investment advisor. In 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments without regard to how they were used.

Hsu, Barrett and Harris reported from Washington. Rosalind S. Helderman and Perry Stein in Washington contributed to this report.

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