Former FBI official Charles McGonigal confessed to his guilt on Friday for accepting 225,000 US dollars from Albanian-American Agron Nezaj, who, as per court documents, had become an informant for the FBI’s investigation into McGonigal’s contacts and activities in Albania.
This admission took place in a federal court in Washington, following an agreement between prosecutors and McGonigal’s legal team. He admitted guilt for one count, specifically, concealing material evidence, while prosecutors dropped the remaining eight charges.
Each count in the indictment included multiple allegations.
The agreement implies that the case will not proceed to trial, and further details about this matter will remain undisclosed.
McGonigal acknowledged all charges related to Albania, including his interactions with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and the unofficial advisor to the Prime Minister, Dorian Duçka.
Under questioning from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, he confirmed that on November 25, he had “informed the Department of Justice Prosecutor… about a possible criminal investigation into an American citizen who was registered to lobby for a party that was not Prime Minister Rama’s,” to which McGonigal responded with a “Yes”.
He had received information about this lobbyist from Duçka.
The American lobbyist and Albanian political party are not named in the indictment. However, on November 14, 2017, lobbyist Nick Muzin submitted, albeit belatedly, documents to the Department of Justice concerning lobbying activities on behalf of the Democratic Party in Albania. This later became the subject of an investigation in Albania regarding the source of the funds.
On February 26, 2018, the FBI’s New York office officially initiated investigations focused on the American lobbyist at McGonigal’s request and under his guidance.
During the hearing, McGonigal admitted that he had established connections and contacts in Albania through a friend, referring to Nezaj, with the aim of preparing the groundwork for business opportunities in Albania after his departure from the FBI.
“Before I left the FBI in September 2018, I was planning to open a security consultancy business with a friend. I knew that my contacts with the government and international relations could be beneficial for me when I later started the business,” he said in court, referring to his contacts with the Albanian Government.
He further added that, as stated in the indictment and the guilty plea, he had not declared the 220,000 US dollars he said he had borrowed from his friend and potential business partner, referring to Neza, and had not disclosed his contacts with foreign nationals.
McGonigal admitted during the hearing that he had met with Prime Minister Edi Rama several times starting in September 2017, beginning with their first meeting on September 9 in the presence of Duçka, who is still identified as Person B in the document offering a reduced charge.
When asked by the judge if, after the September 2017 trip, he had “maintained a continuous relationship with the Prime Minister of Albania and Person B”, McGonigal responded with “Yes”.
Similarly, he confirmed when asked if, at the request of Person A, he had called on the Prime Minister to exercise caution and not grant licenses for oil exploration in Albania to a Russian company, while Persons A and B had financial interests in the Albanian Government’s decision.
He also claimed that during the September 2017 visit, McGonigal “was introduced by Person A to an Albanian businessman and politician, who asked him for help in investigating a suspected plot to kill the businessman and politician”.
After the hearing, his attorney, Seth Ducharme, spoke to the reporters.
“While he may have had or has had, I believe, some fairly legitimate interests that aligned with the United States in maintaining those relationships, he also clearly had personal interests in preparing the ground after leaving his position to continue those relationships. So, it was certainly something unseemly,” he said.
The attorney added that when considering opening a private consulting firm after leaving government, “the more contacts you have worldwide, the more business opportunities you have”.
“Thus, for some of the people he (McGonigal) considered the potential development of business and resources for future relationships, he alluded to the guilty plea, and they fall into this category,” Ducharme added.
The former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official had previously admitted guilt in August in a New York court regarding charges related to violations of U.S. sanctions against Russia, working after retirement for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whom he had previously investigated.
The criminal offense for which McGonigal admitted guilt in Washington carries a maximum sentence of up to 5 years in prison, but the sentence could be more lenient. The terms of the agreement stipulate that McGonigal cannot appeal the sentence, which is expected to be delivered next February./VOA