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Former top FBI counterintelligence agent Charles McGonigal charged with violating Russia sanctions

The former top FBI agent in New York for counterintelligence was arrested with an ex-Russian diplomat and charged with violating U.S. sanctions on Russia after he left the FBI by trying to help the oligarch Oleg Deripaska get off the sanctions list, federal prosecutors said Monday.

The ex-agent, Charles McGonigal separately was charged Monday in federal court in Washington, D.C., in connection with accepting $225,000 in cash — while working at the FBI — from a person who had business interests in Europe who had been an employee of Albania’s foreign intelligence service.

That other person later became an FBI source in a criminal probe of foreign political lobbying, which McGonigal was supervising, authorities said.

McGonigal, who is charged with making false statements and other charges in that case, also allegedly failed to disclose, as required, that during an October 2017 trip to Albania and Kosovo, he had met with Albania’s prime minister and with a Kosovar politician.

“Mr. McGonigal betrayed his solemn oath to the United States in exchange for personal gain and at the expense of our national security,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Donald Alway. 

In the case related to Deripaska, a five-count indictment in U.S. District Court in Manhattan charges the 54-year-old McGonigal and Sergey Shestakov, 69, with violating the Russia sanctions, in addition to money laundering.

Shestakov is a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who most recently worked as an interpreter for the Brooklyn federal court and prosecutors there. He has U.S. citizenship.

The Morris, Connecticut, resident is also charged with lying to the FBI during questioning by concealing the nature of his and McGonigal’s relationship with an employee of Deripaska’s who was also rumored to be a Russian spy.

The alleged criminal acts on Deripaska’s behalf began the year after McGonigal, who lives in New York City, retired from the FBI in 2018 after 22 years of service.

But the indictment says he also used his law enforcement connections before his retirement to obtain an internship with the New York Police Department for the college-age daughter of Deripaska’s employee.

While at the FBI, McGonigal previously had investigated Deripaska, who made his fortune in Russia’s aluminum industry. FBI agents in October 2021 raided proprieties in New York and Washington that were linked to Deripaska.

McGonigal was arrested Saturday night at JFK International Airport in Queens, New York, after flying there from the Middle East.

McGonigal and Shestakov, 69, who also was arrested Saturday evening, are due to appear in court in Manhattan later Monday.

The charges against them carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years if they are convicted. McGonigal faces an identical maximum sentence in the criminal case in Washington,

McGonigal’s LinkedIn profile says he most recently worked as a senior vice president at commercial real estate giant Brookfield Properties. A company spokesman previously said he left Brookfield in January 2022.

CNBC has requested comment from lawyers for McGonigal and Shestakov.

The 21-year indictment against McGonigalsays that in 2021 he and Shestakov agreed to and did investigate a rival Russian oligarch of Deripaska in return for concealed payments from Deripaska. Those alleged payments violated sanctions that the United States imposed on Deripaska in 2018, the indictment says.

McGonigal, who was in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence operations in New York from 2016 to 2018, knew his alleged actions violated the sanctions, having received what was then-classified information about Deripaska being added to the list of sanctioned oligarchs, the indictment says. Those sanctions were imposed as a result of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll, in a statement, said, “Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin and are associated with acts of bribery, extortion, and violence.”

The indictment said that McGonigal, while still serving at the FBI in 2018, was introduced by Shestakov via email to an employee of Deripaska, who had been rumored in media reports to be a Russian intelligence officer. That Deripaska employee, identified in the indictment as “Agent-1” also was a former Soviet and Russian diplomat.

Shestakov asked McGonigal to help the employee’s daughter get an internship with the New York Police Department in the fields of “counterterrorism, intelligence gathering and ‘international liaisoning,’ ” the indictment says.

McGonigal agreed to help, and told an FBI supervisor who worked for him that he wanted to recruit the Deripaska employee, the indictment says.

“Through McGonigal’s efforts, Agent-1’s daughter received VIP treatment from the NYPD,” the indictment says.

“An NYPD Sergeant assigned to brief Agent-1’s daughter subsequently reported the event to the NYPD and FBI because, among other reasons, Agent-1’s daughter claimed to have an unusually close relationship to ‘an FBI agent’ who had given her access to confidential FBI files, and it was unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and FBI.”

In 2019, after McGonigal retired, Shestakov and he introduced the woman’s father to an international law firm in Manhattan, which the Deripaska employee sought to retain in an effort to get sanctions on the oligarch lifted, the indictment says.

During those negotiations, McGonigal traveled to London and Vienna to meet Deripaska and others at the oligarch’s residences, the indictment alleges.

In electronic communications between McGonigal, Shestakov and the Deripaska employee, they did not refer to the oligarch by his surname, but instead used terms like “the individual,” “our friend in Vienna,” and the Vienna client,” the indictment charges.

Deripaska ended up retaining the law firm for work to try to lift the sanctions, at a cost of $175,000 per month, with $25,000 earmarked for “certain other professionals,” according to the indictment.

The law firm retained McGonigal as a consultant and investigator in its work for Deripaska, the charging document says. McGonigal asked the firm to compensate him by transmitting $25,000 to a corporation owned by Shestakov, the indictment says.

The firm’s work for Deripaska was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the oligarch ceased paying the lawyers in around March 2020, the indictment says.

But in the spring of 2021, Agent-1 began negotiating with McGonigal and Shestakov to work directly for Deripaska, without the involvement of the law firm “on a non-legal matter not lawful” under U.S. sanctions.

That project involved the investigation of another oligarch and his interests in a large Russian corporation which Deripaska and the other oligarch were fighting for control of, the indictment says.

In August 2021, the trio drew up and executed a contract that required a corporation based in Cyprus to pay a New Jersey-based corporation more than $51,000 upon execution of the control and another $41,790 per month for “business intelligence services, analysis, and research,” the indictment alleges.

In reality, the indictment says, the payments would be made to McGonigal and Shestakov, neither of whom was named in, or who signed the contract.

The New Jersey corporation was owned by a friend of McGonigal’s who had arranged for him to participate in its business while McGonigal was still serving as special agent in charge for counterintelligence in the New York FBI bureau, according to the indictment. McGonigal had a corporate email account and a cellphone under a false name to conceal his work, the indictment says.

While investigating the second oligarch, the indictment says, McGonigal retained subcontractors to assist in the probe, without telling them the name of the client: Deripaska. One of those subcontractors later informed McGonigal that a third party had found so-called dark web files that could reveal hidden U.S. assets owned by the second oligarch, the indictment alleges.

In late November 2021, McGonigal and Shestakov negotiated Deripaska’s employee to get funds from the oligarch to purchase the dark web files, the indictment says.

“This activity largely or completely ceased on or about November 21, 2021, when special agents of the FBI, acting pursuant to court-issued search warrants, seized the defendant’s personal electronic devices,” the indictment says.

Shestakov met earlier that same day with FBI agents in a Manhattan restaurant, where he tried “to conceal the nature and depth of the relationship between himself, McGonigal and Agent-1,” the indictment says.

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