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Ex-FBI agent who worked on Trump case arrested over ties to Russian oligarch

By Sarah May
|
January 24, 2023

In a rather ironic turn of events, Charles McGonigal, a former top FBI counterintelligence official who was heavily involved in the Trump—Russia collusion probe, was arrested Saturday over his own illegal links to a billionaire Russian oligarch, as ABC News reports.

Though he retired from the FBI back in 2018, McGonigal once served as special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the agency's field office in New York, and he was taken into custody at JFK airport upon his return from a trip to Sri Lanka, according to the Daily Mail.

Indictment unsealed

As outlined by an indictment unsealed on Monday, McGonigal, working in concert with former Russian diplomat and interpreter Sergey Shestakov, conspired to provide services to oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was and remains under U.S. government sanctions and is also facing criminal charges related to his violations thereof.

According to a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), after engaging in negotiations with an agent representing Deripaska, McGonigal and Shestakov agreed to provide certain services to the Russian billionaire, including conducting investigations into a rival oligarch.

In exchange for that work, McGonigal and Shestakov were to receive sizable monetary payments that would be concealed in a number of ways, including not mentioning Deripaska by name in electronic communications, making use of shell companies as counterparties in contracts, forging signatures, and more, the DOJ explained.

The agency further notes that McGonigal and Shestakov proceeded with their scheme with full awareness that Deripaska was already under U.S. sanctions, both by way of the former's prior service inside the FBI and a prior effort by the pair to have the oligarch's sanctions lifted by the government.

“Rich Russian guy”

According to the Mail, it was after McGonigal retired from the FBI that he ramped up his work for Deripaska, initially using a law firm as a conduit through which he earned no less than $25,000 as an “investigator.”

He later went to work directly for Deripaska, the outlet noted, receiving payments of $51,000 and $41,790, respectively, all the while telling friends that he was working on behalf of a “rich Russian guy,” but that his endeavors were fully within the law.

McGonigal's spurious foreign engagements were not limited to Deripaska, however, as the U.S. Attorney's Office has reportedly announced the existence of another case against the former FBI official, alleging that he took $225,000 from a former Albanian intelligence agent prior to his departure from the agency, hiding the relationship from his employer along the way.

In that case, McGonical is accused of taking foreign trips that involved meetings with the Albanian prime minister and a former senior official from that company who subsequently went to work for a Chinese energy firm.

Multiple counts leveled

As a result of their actions on behalf of Deripaska, McGonigal and Shestakov now each face one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, one count of violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), a single count of conspiring to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering each.

Shestakov also faces a single count of making false statements in a November 2021 interview with the FBI about the duo's relationship with Deripaska's representative.

Each of the allegations on which both McGonical and Shestakov have been charged carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, and the false statements charge leveled only against the latter has a top-end potential sentence of five years.

As the DOJ noted, however, the maximum potential penalties are statutory in nature, and any sentence ultimately imposed is the province of the presiding judge.

“No exceptions for anyone”

Commenting on the indictment and arrest of McGonigal and Shestakov, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said that the two men, “as public servants” with prior knowledge of Deripaska's sanctions, “should have known better,” adding, that the DOJ “will continue to prosecute those who violate U.S. sanctions enacted in response to Russian belligerence in Ukraine in order to line their own pockets.”

Those sentiments were echoed by FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll, who 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. … “After sanctions are imposed, they must be enforced equally,,,in order to be successful. There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former FBI official like Mr. McGonigal.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who has come under fire in recent years for a perceived double standard when it comes to bringing government officials to justice for their wrongdoing, told Fox News Digital, “The way we maintain the trust and confidence of the American people is through our work – showing, when all the facts come out, that we stuck to the process and we treated everyone equally, even when it is one of our own.”

“The FBI will go the great lengths to investigate and hold accountable anyone who violates the law, including when the individual is an FBI employee,” Wray added. “We hold ourselves to the highest standard, and our focus will remain on our mission and on doing the right thing, in the right way, every time,” he continued. But whether his words will assuage the fears of those who worry that the agency he leads has abandoned its loyalty to the rule of law, only time will tell.