A former top Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) official has been charged with violating US sanctions by aiding a sanctioned Russian billionaire, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
In an indictment unsealed on Monday, prosecutors alleged former FBI agent Charles McGonigal worked on behalf of Russian energy magnate Oleg Deripaska, providing services that included seeking to have United States sanctions against Deripaska lifted and investigating a rival oligarch.
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He was also accused of hiding payments from Deripaska.
McGonigal had been the special agent in charge of the FBI counterintelligence division in New York before his retirement in 2018. He had supervised investigations of Russian oligarchs during his tenure, according to DOJ officials.
In a statement released on Monday, FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll 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”.
“Supporting a designated threat to the United States and our allies is a crime the FBI will continue to pursue aggressively.”
Deripaska was sanctioned in 2018, per an order issued by former President Barack Obama in the wake of the Russian annexation of Crimea.
The order blocked the property of all individuals determined “to be responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that threatened the security, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine, or who materially assist, sponsor, or provide support to individuals or entities engaging in such activities”.
The order further prohibited individuals from “making or receiving any funds, goods, or services by, to, from, or for the benefit of any person designated by the US Treasury”, according to the DOJ.
Among the allegations, prosecutors said McGonigal worked with Russian-diplomat-turned-interpreter Sergey Shestakov in 2021 to investigate a “rival Russian oligarch” in return for secret payments.
The duo allegedly sought to conceal Deripaska’s identity through shell companies and forged signatures.
Prosecutors also said that McGonigal and Shestakov had in 2019 worked on behalf of Deripaska “in an unsuccessful effort to have the sanctions against Deripaska lifted”.
The pair were charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiring to commit money laundering and money laundering. The charges each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Shestakov is also charged with making false statements to the FBI.
McGonigal and Shestakov were arrested on 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, New York.
McGonigal pleaded not guilty on Monday and was released on $500,000 bail. Shestakov also pleaded not guilty and was released on $200,000 bail.
“This is obviously a distressing day for Mr McGonigal and his family,” McGonigal’s lawyer, Seth DuCharme, told reporters after the Manhattan hearing. “We’ll review the evidence, we’ll closely scrutinise it, and we have a lot of confidence in Mr McGonigal.”
The US has stepped up its enforcement of sanctions violations by prominent Russian figures in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which will enter its 12th month on Tuesday.