By: Michael R. Sisak & Eric Tucker
A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who investigated Russian oligarchs has been indicted on charges he secretly worked for one, in violation of U.S. sanctions. The official was also charged, in a separate indictment, with taking cash from a former foreign security officer.
Charles McGonigal, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York from 2016 to 2018, is accused in an indictment unsealed Monday of working with a former Soviet diplomat-turned-Russian interpreter on behalf of Oleg 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.
The FBI investigated McGonigal, showing a willingness to go after one of its own. Nonetheless, the indictment is an unwelcome headline for the FBI at a time when the bureau is entangled in separate, politically charged investigations — the handling of classified documents by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — as newly ascendant Republicans in Congress pledge to investigate high-profile FBI and Justice Department decisions.
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 — and held at a federal jail in Brooklyn. They both pleaded not guilty Monday and were released on bail.
McGonigal, 54, and Shestakov, 69, are charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiring to commit money laundering and money laundering. Shestakov is also charged with making material misstatements to the FBI.
McGonigal “has had a long, distinguished career with the FBI,” his lawyer, Seth DuCharme, told reporters when he left court with McGonigal following his arraignment.
“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.
Messages seeking comment were left for lawyers for Shestakov and Deripaska.
McGonigal was separately charged in federal court in Washington, D.C. with concealing at least $225,000 in cash he allegedly received from a former Albanian intelligence official while working for the FBI.
The indictment does not charge or characterize the payment to McGonigal as a bribe, but federal prosecutors say that, while hiding the payment from the FBI, he took actions as an FBI supervisor that were aimed at the ex-intelligence official’s financial benefit.
They included proposing that a pharmaceutical company pay the man’s company $500,000 in exchange for scheduling a business meeting involving a representative from the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.
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 U.S. Treasury Department added Deripaska to its sanctions list in 2018 for purported ties to the Russian government and Russia’s energy sector amid Russia’s ongoing threats to Ukraine.
In September, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Deripaska and three associates with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions by plotting to ensure his child was born in the United States.