Sun, 29 Jan 2023

Former FBI Official Pleads Not Guilty to Latest Criminal Charges

Voice of America
26 Jan 2023, 08:35 GMT+10

washington - Retired top FBI official Charles McGonigal pleaded not guilty in federal court in Washington on Wednesday to criminal charges alleging he took at least $225,000 from a former Albanian intelligence agent while serving as the chief of counterintelligence for the FBI's New York field office.

McGonigal's arraignment came two days after he pleaded not guilty in an unrelated case in New York, a five-count indictment that accuses him of money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions after he left the FBI in 2018 by investigating a rival of sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

McGonigal, who retired from the FBI after a 22-year career, is one of the most senior former FBI officials to be indicted in recent years.

As counterintelligence chief of the New York office, he oversaw high-profile, sensitive investigations, including that of Deripaska.

In recent days, conservatives have sought to link McGonigal to the FBI's investigation of former President Donald Trump during Trump's term in office, but his role in that probe appears tenuous.

Could be imprisoned for decades

In the Washington case, McGonigal, 54, faces nine counts of concealing material facts, making false statements, and falsifying records and documents. He could face decades in prison if convicted.

Appearing via video link from New York where he is out on bail, McGonigal pleaded not guilty to all nine charges against him.

Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqi stressed that McGonigal is a "presumed innocent person" under the law.

Faruqi ordered prosecutors to turn over all exculpatory evidence to McGonigal's defense and scheduled the next court hearing for February 24.

The case has been assigned to Federal District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

Most criminal cases in the United States are resolved by plea agreements between prosecutors and defense lawyers, and it's not clear if McGonigal's case will go to trial.

The allegations

The nine-count indictment alleges McGonigal concealed from the FBI his relationship with a former Albanian agent and businessman, as well his foreign travels and contacts with other foreign nationals during the last two years of his employment with the bureau.

The former Albanian agent, identified in Albanian and American media as Agron Neza, allegedly had business interests in the Balkans and before foreign governments.

According to court documents, McGonigal allegedly met with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama at least four times in 2017 and 2018, and later instigated an FBI investigation of an American lobbyist working on behalf of the main Albanian opposition party. Neza was a confidential informant for the investigation.

During his first meeting with Rama in 2017, McGonigal allegedly urged him "to be careful about awarding oil field drilling licenses in Albania to Russian front companies," according to the indictment.

Neza and a business associate described as an employee of a Chinese energy company and an informal adviser to the prime minister had a financial interest in the Albanian government's licensing decision, the indictment alleges.

McGonigal's secret dealings with Rama and his role in investigating the lobbyist for the opposition party have grown into a major national scandal in Albania.

Neza is not accused of any wrongdoing and could not be reached for comment.

In the New York case, McGonigal faces four charges, including violating U.S. sanctions by investigating a rival oligarch of Deripaska in return for receiving secret payments from a Deripaska associate, and later unsuccessfully trying to get the sanctions on Deripaska lifted. He pleaded not guilty on Monday to the charges.

As head of counterintelligence for the New York office, McGonigal once investigated Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska.

His alleged work on behalf of the Russian businessman took place after he left the FBI and was working as a senior executive for a commercial real estate company.

Former Soviet and Russian diplomat Sergey Shestakov was also charged in connection with the alleged scheme.

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