Former top FBI official accused of taking cash from Putin ally to investigate rival | FBI

A former top FBI counter-intelligence official conspired to commit money laundering offences and violated US sanctions by taking secret payments from the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to investigate a rival, federal prosecutors said in an indictment on Monday.

Charles McGonigal, 54, was also arrested on charges relating to his alleged acceptance of a $225,000 cash payment from a former foreign security officer, when he was special agent in charge for counter-intelligence at the FBI’s New York office.

In the Deripaska-connected case, the five-count indictment unsealed in Manhattan was the latest in a string of charges against associates of the oligarch that suggest the US justice department views the matter as going beyond regular sanctions violations.

In the cash payments case, federal prosecutors portrayed McGonigal as seeking to enrich himself and the former foreign service officer, who later served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying, over which McGonigal had supervisory authority.

“Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin,” said Michael Driscoll, FBI assistant director in charge in New York. “Mr McGonigal and Mr Shestakov, both US citizens, acted on behalf of Deripaska and fraudulently used a US entity to obscure their activity.”

Deripaska, a billionaire with ties to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was at the center of allegations that Russia sought to help Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president. Deripaska was a client of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair who was convicted of fraud and other crimes in 2018.

According to charging papers, McGonigal violated US sanctions by agreeing in 2021, three years after he left the FBI’s New York office, to provide services to Deripaska. While at the FBI, McGonigal oversaw investigations into oligarchs including Deripaska, who was himself indicted last year for sanctions violations.

The indictment said McGonigal and Shestakov agreed to investigate a rival oligarch after negotiating a contract with an intermediary, taking steps to obscure Deripaska’s involvement by using shell companies to wire payments and never using Deripasks’s name in communications.

McGonigal and Shestakov, a former Soviet diplomat, were aware the arrangement was criminal, the indictment said, because while serving at the FBI, McGonigal received then-classified information that Deripaska would be added to a list of oligarchs subject to sanctions.

The two men were also part of an unsuccessful effort in 2019 to have sanctions against Deripaska lifted, the government said.

Shestakov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who became a US citizen and worked as a court interpreter, was also charged with making false statements to the FBI.

The justice department cited sanctions enacted against Russia in 2014 and 2018, over aggression against Ukraine.

In 2018, the department said, the US treasury sanctioned Deripaska “in connection with its finding that the actions of the government of the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security and foreign policy”.

Deripaska “was sanctioned for having acted or purported to act on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a senior official of the government of the Russian Federation and for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy”.

A lawyer for McGonigal, Seth DuCharme, said his client intended to plead not guilty in the Deripaska-connected case when he makes his initial appearance in federal court in Manhattan.

A lawyer for Shestakov, Bennett Epstein, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The charges were announced by the US attorney for the southern district of New York but the investigation also involved attorneys in the justice department counterintelligence section in Washington, a person familiar with the matter said.

Damian Williams, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, said: “As public servants, [McGonigal and Shestakov] should have known better.

“This office will continue to prosecute those who violate US sanctions enacted in response to Russian belligerence in Ukraine in order to line their own pockets.”

The department has escalated its scrutiny of Deripaska associates. In September, federal prosecutors charged a British national, Graham Bonham-Carter, who worked as Deripaska’s property manager, and indicted five Russian nationals for sanctions evasion.

Federal prosecutors charged Deripaska in a superseding indictment. A US-based employee, Olga Shikri, was charged with sanctions evasion and destroying evidence. In October, Bonham-Carter was arrested in the UK while two of the five Russian nationals were arrested in Europe.

Regarding the charges related to the $225,000 cash payment, Donald Alway, assistant director in charge of the FBI Los Angeles field office, said: “Mr McGonigal betrayed his solemn oath to the United States in exchange for personal gain and at the expense of our national security.”

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