Under US sanctions, a former FBI agent pleads guilty to doing illegal work for a Russian billionaire

Charles McGonigal, a former FBI official who has been charged with working for sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, arrives at Federal Court in New York City, U.S., August 15, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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A former FBI agent admitted in a New York court on Tuesday that he worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska while he was under U.S. sanctions. In exchange, prosecutors dropped other charges against him.

In January, prosecutors said that Charles McGonigal, who was in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York before he retired in 2018, got hidden payments from Deripaska in exchange for looking into a rival businessman. In 2019, McGonigal tried to get Deripaska’s sanctions lifted, but he failed.

At the time, McGonigal pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges, which included breaking sanctions and moving money.

McGonigal, who is 55 years old, told a federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday that he worked for Deripaska from spring to fall of 2021 to find bad information about Vladimir Potanin so that Deripaska’s enemy could be put on the U.S. sanctions list. He said he did this to get Potanin put on the list.

The former FBI agent said that he was paid $17,500 for this work. The money came from Russia and went through accounts in Cyprus and New Jersey to hide where it came from.

McGonigal told the judge that he felt “deeply sorry” for what he had done.

After the hearing, his lawyer, Seth DuCharme, told reporters that his client was treated properly.

The charge of conspiracy can get you up to 5 years in jail. On Dec. 14, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Rearden will hand down a term for McGonigal.

Matthew Olsen, who is in charge of the National Security Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a statement that the case shows the DOJ’s “resolve to pursue and break up the illegal networks that Russian oligarchs use to try to avoid our sanctions and break our laws.”

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, U.S. prosecutors charged McGonigal as they stepped up their efforts to put sanctions on Russian leaders and go after people who might have helped them.

Deripaska, who started the Russian aluminum company Rusal, was one of 24 Russian businessmen and government leaders who were hit with sanctions by the U.S. government in 2018. The sanctions were a response to claims that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

He and the Kremlin have both said there was no interference in the race.

Potanin, who is 62 years old, is one of the richest people in Russia. He is the president and head of Nornickel, which is the biggest producer of palladium and refined nickel in the world.

In December 2022, the U.S. put him on a list of people who should be punished.