On Monday, the Justice Department declared that a former top FBI counterintelligence agent from New York who had investigated potential connections between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in 2016 was charged with money laundering and breaking US sanctions. This ex-agent allegedly tried to help Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska dodge penalties imposed against him by the US government – then later accepted an offer to investigate another billionaire oligarch.
Charles McGonigal, who had overseen the bureau’s NYC counterintelligence division from 2016 till his 2018 retirement, was apprehended at JFK Airport. At precisely the same time in Connecticut, Sergey Shestakov – a court interpreter employed by Deripaska – met the same fate when police visited his home and arrested him.
“They both previously worked with Deripaska to attempt to have his sanctions removed, and, as public servants, they should have known better,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Both men were set to stand before the Manhattan Federal Court for their arraignment. An additional indictment out of Washington identified McGonigal as guilty of concealing $225,000 in cash from a former member of Albania’s secret service.
According to federal law, McGonigal was mandated to disclose his encounters with foreign diplomats with the FBI. Unfortunately, he neglected this obligation and sought after business ventures and travel opportunities that proved incompatible with his role at the bureau—a move prosecutors are now calling out as a conflict of interest. As the cyber-counterintelligence section chief in Washington, McGonigal was among the first FBI agents to hear that a Trump campaign official had asserted Russians were in possession of damaging information about then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. This set off an investigation that proceeded throughout Donald Trump’s presidency.
The U.S District Court for the Southern District of New York has issued a 21-page indictment against McGonigal, citing that while he was employed by the FBI he obtained confidential information regarding Deripaska’s potentially being included in a list of Russian oligarchs with close links to Moscow following Russia’s annexation and invasion of Crimea back in 2014.
Deripaska was added to the sanctions list due to a history of malicious and criminal behavior including money laundering accusations, alleged death threats towards business competitors, illegal eavesdropping of government officials, extortion and racketeering. As the founder of aluminum giant Rusal, his dangerous actions were so concerning that they led to him being placed on the US Treasury Department’s sanction list.
There are also allegations that Deripaska “bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman, and had links to a Russian organized crime group.”
At the same time, according to the indictment, Shestakov connected McGonigal with a former Soviet diplomat who allegedly served as an agent for Deripaska. This person is not specifically named in court documents yet has been publicly rumored by multiple media outlets to be a Russian intelligence officer.
Prosecutors allege that Shestakov requested assistance from McGonigal in securing an internship with the New York Police Department for the daughter of Deripaska’s representative. McGonigal allegedly agreed, according to prosecutors, and conveyed this message to a NYPD contact that, “I have interest in her father for a number of reasons.” Furthermore, McGonigal allegedly informed one of his underlings that he wanted to “enlist” the Deripaska representative.
The agent’s daughter was allegedly granted special treatment by the NYPD and even proclaimed to a police sergeant that an unknown FBI representative had “given her access to confidential FBI files.”
In 2019, McGonigal relinquished his position at the FBI and was thereafter appointed as a “consultant” to an attorney’s office that had been sought out by Deripaska’s agent in order to get rid of the sanctions imposed on him.
While negotiating, McGonigal visited Deripaska’s residences in London and Vienna to meet with him as well as his associates. McGonigal and Shestakov never used Deripaska’s name in their conversations but instead referred to him as “the individual,” “our friend from Vienna”, and the mysterious “Vienna client” according to court documents. As compensation for his work, McGonigal requested the law firm to deliver $25,000 to a company owned by Shestakov.
The plans to remove Deripaska’s name from the sanctions list were hindered by the global coronavirus pandemic, yet McGonigal and Shestakov started discussions in early 2021 about working for Deripaska on something that was not legally permissible under Treasury regulations. In their conversations, the two men and Deripaska’s representative addressed him using code phrases like “you know who,” “the big guy” and “the client.”
Finally, in August 2021 an agreement was made that would settle the dispute between McGonigal, Shestakov and Deripaska. The Russian bank based in Cyprus agreed to pay these men through wiring money to a corporation owned by a close friend of McGonigal located in New Jersey. This acquaintance had received from FBI official operating under a false identity both corporate email credentials as well as a cellphone while they were still employed at the bureau. Prosecutors asserted that Shestakov had forged the signature of McGonigal’s friend on the contract.
As reported in the indictment, a total of $51,280 was wired to the New Jersey company on August 13th; this amount would then be followed by monthly installments of $41,790 spanning from August 18th until November 18th.
In October 2021, McGonigal was promised a comprehensive “soup to nuts” investigation from the investigator he hired in exchange for some money. The work had been done on an unnamed rival of Deripaska’s and it eventually unearthed over $500 million worth of hidden assets!
In the District of Columbia case, prosecutors allege that McGonigal utilized his position as an FBI supervisor for personal gain. A pharmaceutical company was offered a business deal that involved allocating $500,000 to an ex-Albanian intelligence official in exchange for setting up a meeting between the US delegation at the United Nations and one of their representatives.
In 2017, McGonigal met with Albania’s prime minister and cautioned against handing out oil field drilling licenses in the country to Russian front companies — a decision that could potentially benefit his Albanian acquaintances financially.
It is claimed that McGonigal induced the FBI’s New York office to start a criminal probing into lobbying, with an ex-Albanian intelligence officer as a confidential human informant—all without disclosing to either the FBI or DOJ that he had received payment from this person.
McGonigal is accused of four serious crimes: conspiring to evade US sanctions, money laundering, conspiring to commit money laundering and violating federal law. Consequences for these charges can be severe; McGonigal could face up to 80 years in prison if found guilty.