Ex-FBI agent charged with aiding Russian oligarch walks free on $500K bail


The former FBI counterintelligence agent charged with helping a Russian oligarch evade US sanctions has been freed on bail.

Charles McGonigal, 54, walked free from Manhattan federal court on Monday on a $500,000 personal recognizance bond, following his arrest Saturday on charges laid out in two newly unsealed indictments.

One of the indictments, filed in Manhattan, accused McGonigal of violating US sanctions laws by working for Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire crony of Vladimir Putin, following his 2018 retirement from the FBI.

The other charges, filed in Washington DC, allege McGonigal took $225,000 in cash bribes from an unnamed former Albanian intelligence agent while leading the counterintelligence branch in the FBI’s New York field office.

Accompanied by the ex-spy, McGonigal secretly met with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in September 2017, where he gave Rama ‘FBI paraphernalia’ and offered advice on lucrative oil drilling licenses, the indictment states.

Charles McGonigal and wife leaves Manhattan Federal Court after he was arraigned on charges he violated US sanctions and freed on a $500,000 bail

McGonigal secretly met with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (above) in September 2017, where he gave Rama 'FBI paraphernalia', the indictment states

McGonigal secretly met with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (above) in September 2017, where he gave Rama ‘FBI paraphernalia’, the indictment states

McGonigal was freed on a signature bond, meaning the money did not actually have to be posted up front, which was signed by himself and two other unidentified people. 

As he left court, McGonigal’s attorney Seth DuCharme, told reporters his client ‘has had a long, distinguished career with the FBI.’ 

‘This is obviously a distressing day for Mr. McGonigal and his family, but we’ll review the evidence, we’ll closely scrutinize it and we have a lot of confidence in Mr. McGonigal,’ said DuCharme, the former top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn.

McGonigal worked for the FBI from 1996 until his retirement in 2018, and from 2016 until he left the bureau he was the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in the New York field office.

He played a role in sensitive and high-profile investigations, including Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s purported ties to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

He also led an FBI team that investigated why CIA informants in China were being arrested and killed — a probe that led to the arrest and conviction of Chinese double agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee.

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska was sanctioned by the US and then charged with violating them last year. Pictured: With Vladimir Putin in 2017

Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska was sanctioned by the US and then charged with violating them last year. Pictured: With Vladimir Putin in 2017

Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI's New York office, leaves Manhattan Federal Court on Monday in New York City

Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York office, leaves Manhattan Federal Court on Monday in New York City

Now, however, McGonigal is accused of spinning his own web of deception in multiple alleged schemes to profit from illegal foreign payments. 

In a bureau-wide email Monday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said McGonigal’s alleged conduct ‘is entirely inconsistent with what I see from the men and women of the FBI who demonstrate every day through their actions that they’re worthy of the public´s trust.’ 

The must stunning charge accused him of working with a former Soviet diplomat-turned-Russian interpreter on behalf of Deripaska , a Russian billionaire they purportedly referred to in code as ‘the big guy’ and ‘the client.’

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

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.

Shestakov, who worked as an interpreter for federal courts and prosecutors in New York City after retiring 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 functioned as an agent for Deripaska, the indictment said. 

That person is not named in court papers 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 for help getting the agent’s daughter an internship in the New York Police Department´s counterterrorism and intelligence units. McGonigal agreed, prosecutors say, and told a police department contact that, ‘I have an interest in her father for a number of reasons.’

According to the indictment, a police sergeant subsequently reported to the NYPD and FBI that the woman claimed to have an ‘unusually close relationship’ with an FBI agent whom, she said, had given her access to confidential FBI files. 

The sergeant felt it was ‘unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and FBI,’ the indictment said.

After retiring from the FBI, according to the indictment, McGonigal went to work 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 Shestakov-owned corporation, prosecutors say, though the work was ultimately interrupted by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deripaska, 55, is one of the small number of oligarchs who criticized Putin for launching war in Ukraine ¿ calling it madness

Deripaska, 55, is one of the small number of oligarchs who criticized Putin for launching war in Ukraine – calling it madness

The FBI searched Deripaska's $15million home in Washington DC (pictured) , his $42.5million property in the Upper East Side and $4.5million townhouse in West Village in 2021

The FBI searched Deripaska’s $15million home in Washington DC (pictured) , his $42.5million property in the Upper East Side and $4.5million townhouse in West Village in 2021

In 2021, according to the indictment, Deripaska´s agent enlisted McGonigal and Shestakov to dig up dirt on a rival oligarch, whom Deripaska was fighting for control of a large Russian corporation, in exchange for $51,280 up front and $41,790 per month paid via 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 hiding from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip he took to Albania with the former Albanian intelligence official who is alleged to have given him at least $225,000 in three separate cash payments.

Once there, according to the Justice Department, McGonigal met with Albania´s prime minister and urged caution in awarding oil field drilling licenses in the country to Russian front companies. McGonigal’s Albanian contacts had a financial interest in those decisions.

In an example of how McGonigal allegedly blurred 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 revealing to the FBI or Justice Department his financial connections to the man.

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