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Top FBI agent linked to oligarch pleads not guilty to new set of charges

Only days after the retired Charles McGonigal was arraigned on federal charges in Manhattan, he appeared in Washington to face a separate indictment on unregistered lobbying charges in the Balkans.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The FBI's former top counterintelligence agent in New York pleaded not guilty on Wednesday afternoon to a federal indictment that accuses him of concealing his ties to Eastern European officials from the bureau.

Charles McGonigal's virtual arraignment in Washington this afternoon came only 48 hours after he pleaded not guilty in Manhattan to charges that he helped the billionaire Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska evade international sanctions.

McGonigal, 54, had been released Monday on $500,000 personal recognizance bond after pleading not guilty to the Deripaska-related indictment.

The newly unsealed nine-count indictment in Washington says McGonigal, during his tenure as special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York Counterintelligence Division, concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars he received from a former employee of an Albanian intelligence agency.

Prosecutors say the person who paid McGonigal $225,000 in cash later became an FBI source in a criminal probe of foreign political lobbying, which McGonigal was supervising.

It's alleged that McGonigal traveled in September 2017 to Albania, where he met with an Albanian national who was employed by a Chinese energy conglomerate, who operated as an informal adviser to the prime minister of Albania.

“At the request of Person A, defendant McGonigal urged the Prime Minister of Albania to be careful about awarding oil field drilling licenses in Albania to Russian front companies,” the indictment states.

Prosecutors contend that, during several trips overseas to Albania, Austria and Germany, McGonigal withheld from federal disclosure forms that he met and maintained a relationship with the prime minister of Albania, a Kosovar politician in Kosovo, the founder of Bosnia and Herzegovina-based pharmaceutical company, and others.

According to the indictment, McGonigal’s Albanian contact negotiated a deal in 2018 to receive $500,000 for the scheduling of a meeting between the Bosnian pharmaceutical company’s founder and a representative from the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.

“Mr. McGonigal betrayed his solemn oath to the United States in exchange for personal gain and at the expense of our national security,” Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, had said in a statement Monday. “A senior FBI executive at the time, McGonigal is alleged to have committed the very violations he swore to investigate while he purported to lead a workforce of FBI employees who spend their careers protecting secrets and holding foreign adversaries accountable.”

Appearing by video for Wednedsay's arraignment, McGonigal waived a reading of the indictment and pleaded not guilty to all counts. As in the New York case, McGonigal is represented by Seth DuCharme, an attorney at the Bracewell firm in Midtown Manhattan. As a former prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, DuCharme oversaw cases against Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, sex-cult leader Keith Raniere and Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi is handling the prosecution of McGonigal's case in Washington. Although U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia presided over Wednedsay's arraignment, the case in chief has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

The charge of falsification of records and documents carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The charge of making false statements carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison for each count. The charges also carry potential financial penalties.

McGonigal's profile on LinkedIn lists the former FBI official as the senior vice president of "global security and life safety" at the commercial real estate management company Brookfield Properties.

The indictment unsealed Monday in Manhattan says McGonigal violated U.S. sanctions, beginning in August 2017 and continuing through and beyond his 2018 retirement from the agency, by agreeing to investigate a rival Russian oligarch in return for concealed payments from Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who faces U.S. sanctions.

McGonigal was arrested on Saturday at JFK International Airport in New York.

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