Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch: US

Former FBI official Charles McGonigal, who led the agency's counterintelligence division in New York, exits Manhattan federal court after being arrested on charges for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia in New York City, U.S., January 23, 2023. (REUTERS)
Former FBI official Charles McGonigal, who led the agency's counterintelligence division in New York, exits Manhattan federal court after being arrested on charges for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia in New York City, U.S., January 23, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 24 January 2023

Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch: US

Ex-FBI counterintelligence agent aided Russian oligarch: US
  • McGonigal “has had a long, distinguished career with the FBI,” his lawyer, Seth DuCharme, told reporters when he left court with McGonigal following his arraignment

NEW YORK: A former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official who investigated Russian oligarchs has been indicted on charges he secretly worked for one, in violation of US sanctions. The official was also charged, in a separate indictment, with taking cash from a former foreign security officer.
Charles McGonigal, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York from 2016 to 2018, is accused in an indictment unsealed Monday of working with a former Soviet diplomat-turned-Russian interpreter on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire they purportedly referred to in code as “the big guy” and “the client.”
McGonigal, who had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Deripaska, worked to have Deripaska’s sanctions lifted in 2019 and took money from him in 2021 to investigate a rival oligarch, the Justice Department said.
The FBI investigated McGonigal, showing a willingness to go after one of its own. Nonetheless, the indictment is an unwelcome headline for the FBI at a time when the bureau is entangled in separate, politically charged investigations — the handling of classified documents by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — as newly ascendant Republicans in Congress pledge to investigate high-profile FBI and Justice Department decisions.
McGonigal and the interpreter, Sergey Shestakov were arrested 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. They both pleaded not guilty Monday and were released on bail.
McGonigal, 54, and Shestakov, 69, are charged with violating and conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, conspiring to commit money laundering and money laundering. Shestakov is also charged with making material misstatements to the FBI.
McGonigal “has had a long, distinguished career with the FBI,” his lawyer, Seth DuCharme, told reporters when he left court with McGonigal following his arraignment.
“This is obviously a distressing day for Mr. McGonigal and his family, but we’ll review the evidence, we’ll closely scrutinize it and we have a lot of confidence in Mr. McGonigal,” said DuCharme, the former top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn.
Messages seeking comment were left for lawyers for Shestakov and Deripaska.
McGonigal was separately charged in federal court in Washington, D.C. with concealing at least $225,000 in cash he allegedly received from a former Albanian intelligence official while working for the FBI.
The indictment does not charge or characterize the payment to McGonigal as a bribe, but federal prosecutors say that, while hiding the payment from the FBI, he took actions as an FBI supervisor that were aimed at the ex-intelligence official’s financial benefit.
They included proposing that a pharmaceutical company pay the man’s company $500,000 in exchange for scheduling a business meeting involving a representative from the US delegation to the United Nations.
In a bureau-wide email Monday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said McGonigal’s alleged conduct “is entirely inconsistent with what I see from the men and women of the FBI who demonstrate every day through their actions that they’re worthy of the public’s trust.”
The US Treasury Department added Deripaska to its sanctions list in 2018 for purported ties to the Russian government and Russia’s energy sector amid Russia’s ongoing threats to Ukraine.
In September, federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Deripaska and three associates with conspiring to violate US sanctions by plotting to ensure his child was born in the United States.
Shestakov, who worked as an interpreter for federal courts and prosecutors in New York City after retiring as a diplomat in 1993, helped connect McGonigal to Deripaska, according to the indictment.
In 2018, while McGonigal was still working for the FBI, Shestakov introduced him to a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who functioned as an agent for Deripaska, the indictment said. That person is not named in court papers but the Justice Department says he was “rumored in public media reports to be a Russian intelligence officer.”
According to the indictment, Shestakov asked McGonigal for help getting the agent’s daughter an internship in the New York Police Department’s counterterrorism and intelligence units. McGonigal agreed, prosecutors say, and told a police department contact that, “I have an interest in her father for a number of reasons.”
According to the indictment, a police sergeant subsequently reported to the NYPD and FBI that the woman claimed to have an “unusually close relationship” with an FBI agent whom, she said, had given her access to confidential FBI files. The sergeant felt it was “unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the NYPD and FBI,” the indictment said.
After retiring from the FBI, according to the indictment, McGonigal went to work in 2019 as a consultant and investigator for an international law firm seeking to reverse Deripaska’s sanctions, a process known as “delisting.”
The law firm paid McGonigal $25,000 through a Shestakov-owned corporation, prosecutors say, though the work was ultimately interrupted by factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, according to the indictment, Deripaska’s agent enlisted McGonigal and Shestakov to dig up dirt on a rival oligarch, whom Deripaska was fighting for control of a large Russian corporation, in exchange for $51,280 up front and $41,790 per month paid via a Russian bank to a New Jersey company owned by McGonigal’s friend. McGonigal kept his friend in the dark about the true nature of the payments, prosecutors say.
McGonigal is also accused of hiding from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip he took to Albania with the former Albanian intelligence official who is alleged to have given him at least $225,000.
Once there, according to the Justice Department, McGonigal met with Albania’s prime minister and urged caution in awarding oil field drilling licenses in the country to Russian front companies. McGonigal’s Albanian contacts had a financial interest in those decisions.
In an example of how McGonigal allegedly blurred personal gain with professional responsibilities, prosecutors in Washington say he “caused” the FBI’s New York office to open a criminal lobbying investigation in which the former Albanian intelligence official was to serve as a confidential human source.
McGonigal did so, prosecutors allege, without revealing to the FBI or Justice Department his financial connections to the man.

 


Ukraine's Defence Minister Reznikov to be replaced: MP

Ukraine's Defence Minister Reznikov to be replaced: MP
Updated 10 sec ago

Ukraine's Defence Minister Reznikov to be replaced: MP

Ukraine's Defence Minister Reznikov to be replaced: MP
  • "Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping", Ukranian lawmaker says

KYIV: Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov will be replaced by the head of the military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, a senior lawmaker said on Sunday.
"War dictates personnel policies," announced lawmaker David Arakhamia.
"Time and circumstances require reinforcement and regrouping. This is happening now and will continue to happen in the future," he added, without specifying a timeline for the planned re-shuffle.


Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon
Updated 41 min 26 sec ago

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon

Republicans criticize Biden for waiting to shoot down Chinese balloon
  • “China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did,” Trump wrote on social media

WASHINGTON: Republican US lawmakers on Sunday criticized President Joe Biden for waiting days to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon as it floated over the United States, accusing him of showing weakness toward China and initially trying to keep the breach of US airspace undisclosed.
A US Air Force fighter jet on Saturday shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina, a week after it first entered US airspace near Alaska, triggering a dramatic spying saga that has further strained American-Chinese relations.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday the US military was able to collect “valuable” intelligence by studying the balloon, and that three other Chinese surveillance balloons had transited the United States during Donald Trump’s administration — a disclosure the Republican former president denied.
“We should have shot this balloon down over the Aleutian Islands. We should never have allowed it to transit the entire continental United States,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to the chain of small islands that arc off the coast of mainland Alaska.
Cotton told the “Fox News Sunday” program that he believed Biden had waited to disclose the penetration of US airspace because he wanted to salvage Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned diplomatic trip to Beijing, which ultimately was postponed.
“I think part of it is the president’s reluctance to take any action that would be viewed as provocative or confrontational toward the Chinese communists,” Cotton added.
Biden said on Saturday he issued an order on Wednesday to down the balloon after it crossed into Montana, but the Pentagon had recommended waiting until it could be done over open water to protect civilians from debris crashing to Earth from nearly twice the altitude of commercial air traffic.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, said of the Republican criticisms: “they are premature and they are political.”
The Defense Department in the coming week will brief the Senate on the suspected Chinese spy balloon and Chinese surveillance, Schumer told a news conference on Sunday.
NUCLEAR MISSILE SITES
Republican Representative Mike Turner, chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said the panel also was set to receive a briefing on the spy balloon this week, though the exact timing has not been determined.
Turner said the balloon traveled unhindered over sensitive US nuclear missile sites, and that he believed China was using it “to gain information on how to defeat the command and control of our nuclear weapons systems and our missile defense systems.”
“The president has allowed this to go across our most sensitive sites and wasn’t even going to tell the American public if you hadn’t broken the story,” Turner told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “There was no attempt to notify Congress, no attempt to put together the Gang of Eight (a bipartisan group of congressional leaders). I think this administration lacks urgency.”
Republican US Senator Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the ABC News program “This Week” that he would ask administration officials what future preparations have been made to prevent such an incident.
Rubio also said China was trying to send a message that it could enter US airspace, adding that he doubted that the balloon’s debris would be of much intelligence value.
Trump on Sunday disputed Austin’s statement that Chinese government surveillance balloons transited the continental United States briefly three times during his presidency.
“China had too much respect for ‘TRUMP’ for this to have happened, and it NEVER did,” Trump wrote on social media.
Speaking on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” show, Trump’s former director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, also denied such balloon incidents.
China on Sunday condemned the US action against what Beijing called an airship used for meteorological and other scientific purposes that had strayed into US airspace “completely accidentally” — claims rejected by US officials.
“China had clearly asked the US to handle this properly in a calm, professional and restrained manner,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The US had insisted on using force, obviously overreacting.”


UK prime minister prepared to withdraw from ECHR amid strictest immigration law yet

UK prime minister prepared to withdraw from ECHR amid strictest immigration law yet
Updated 05 February 2023

UK prime minister prepared to withdraw from ECHR amid strictest immigration law yet

UK prime minister prepared to withdraw from ECHR amid strictest immigration law yet
  • Government is pushing the ‘boundaries’ of what is possible within international law
  • Sunak is prepared to withdraw from the convention if European courts strike down his new bill

LONDON: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is ready to withdraw his country from the European Convention on Human Rights as he finalizes plans for the UK’s strictest immigration legislation yet, The Times reported on Sunday.

Official estimates warned that 65,000 illegal migrants are expected to arrive in the UK this year, representing a nearly 50 percent increase over last year. 

Sunak’s legislation, which will be unveiled in the coming weeks, will prohibit claiming asylum in the UK for those who enter illegally, The Times reported. It will outline plans for deportation within “days or weeks” rather than “months or years” to their country of origin or to Rwanda, with which the UK has an agreement.

Furthermore, the new laws will also revise some of the UK’s modern slavery rules, which are used by eight out of 10 asylum-seekers entering the country. They also include provisions to establish new detention centers.

Government officials say they are seeking to push the “boundaries” of what is possible within international law. 

“The PM is as frustrated as the public that the number of people arriving here illegally in small boats has risen fourfold in the last two years,” a senior figure told The Times.

The senior figure continued: “He wants to go as far as legally possible to fix the issue — and he is not afraid to push the limits of the refugee convention or ECHR to prevent our country from being exploited by organized crime gangs and those that would skip the queue.

“If people crossing the Channel know that when they arrive in the UK they will be put in detention, their claims will be processed in a matter of days or at most weeks, and then they will be flown to a safe country like Rwanda, they will stop coming.”

Another senior official familiar with Sunak’s thinking told The Times that the government is confident that the new legislation will be upheld in court. 

However, they noted that if the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg finds that the new plans are unlawful, Sunak will consider withdrawing from the convention.

“If this legislation gets onto the statute book and is found to be lawful by our domestic courts, but it is still being held up in Strasbourg, then we know the problem is not our legislation or our courts,” they said.

“If that’s the case, then of course he will be willing to reconsider whether being part of the ECHR is in the UK’s long-term interests,” they added.

Senior figures said if the European court rules against his plans, Sunak is prepared to withdraw from the convention before the general election, The Times reported. However, this would have to pass both Houses of Parliament before the election in 2024.

Polling and conservative focus groups reveal that immigration is one of the top three issues for voters, with strong concerns even in areas of the country where it has little impact, The Times reported.

 


India hails ‘significant’ initiative with UAE, France on energy, climate change 

The Al-Dhafra Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Independent Power Producer project can be seen in Abu Dhabi on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
The Al-Dhafra Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Independent Power Producer project can be seen in Abu Dhabi on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
Updated 05 February 2023

India hails ‘significant’ initiative with UAE, France on energy, climate change 

The Al-Dhafra Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Independent Power Producer project can be seen in Abu Dhabi on January 31, 2023. (AFP)
  • Three countries also agreed to boost defense cooperation 
  • France’s participation appears substantial, experts say

NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday that its new trilateral framework with the UAE and France was significant, adding that the initiative can improve synergy among the countries, as they agreed to work together and undertake energy projects, fight climate change and protect biodiversity.

India, the UAE and France agreed through a phone call on Saturday to establish a trilateral initiative to boost cooperation, including on nuclear and solar power, as well as sustainable projects, and to align their policies with the objectives of the Paris Agreement, the countries said in a joint statement.

They will organize trilateral events in the framework of the Indian presidency of the Group of 20 and the UAE’s hosting of COP28 climate negotiations this year.  

The trilateral initiative was “very significant,” said Indian Ambassador to the UAE Sunjay Sudhir.

“India has very strong relations with the UAE as well as France,” he told Arab News.

“There are numerous synergies that can be brought out even better in a trilateral framework. That is the whole idea behind it.”

The initiative will also make use of existing programs, such as the Mangrove Alliance for Climate led by the UAE and the Indo-Pacific Parks Partnership led by India and France.

The move follows a rising trend of countries forming multilateral groupings, and France’s participation appears substantial, former Indian Ambassador to the UAE Navdeep Suri told Arab News.

“When I look at the emerging diplomatic architecture, what you are seeing is the rise of multilateral groupings, such as the Indo-Pacific partnership for example...then this trilateral framework with France and UAE,” said Suri, who is also a distinguished fellow at the Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation.

“I think this trilateral initiative is very important. France will bring a lot of weight to it, and new areas of collaboration will emerge, including defense.”

India, the UAE and France also agreed to boost defense cooperation, with plans to undertake efforts “to further promote compatibility, and joint development and co-production,” their joint statement read.

“These are three countries that have special relationships with each other,” Suri added.

“What the trilateral initiative does is that it allows like-minded countries to get together and promote shared interests in areas that they agree upon.”

This multilateral framework benefits each country, said Prof. Sujata Ashwarya of the Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi, as it comes at a time in which India holds the G20 presidency and the UAE hosts the COP28, while France seeks to boost its role in the region.

“France is testing the waters for greater influence and intervention in this region as the center of political gravity shifts to Asia with the rise of a powerful China,” Ashwarya told Arab News.

“France’s collaboration with India and the UAE is an attempt to soft-land its presence,” she said.

But the initiative is also a vehicle to maintain momentum in the fight against climate change, which Ashwarya said is “the most pressing issue of our time.”

“Such frameworks allow Indian leaders to highlight India’s commitment to climate change mitigation during India’s presidency of the G20 and portray the country positively.” 


Investigation raises concern about treatment of migrants at UK site

Investigation raises concern about treatment of migrants at UK site
Updated 05 February 2023

Investigation raises concern about treatment of migrants at UK site

Investigation raises concern about treatment of migrants at UK site
  • Asylum-seekers at Manston in England suffered inadequate treatment, violent restraining
  • Fears raised that staff lacked training, legal powers to effectively oversee overcrowded site

London: A migrant processing center in England has seen people restrained to stop them from self-harming and fights break out over food, an investigation has found.

Liberty Investigates used freedom of information requests to look into conditions at the facility in Manston, a former military barracks, finding it housed almost 4,000 people in October 2022.

The Independent newspaper reported that Liberty found people had been locked in vans, pinned to the ground and beaten, and forcibly restrained after asking for more food, and that thousands had been forced to sleep in a makeshift marquee due to overcrowding.

In one incident, recorded by immigration officers and facility staff whenever force was used, a man was elbowed and had his legs restrained after he and several others began banging their heads on walls.

Lucy Moreton, a spokesperson for the ICU union representing Border Force staff, said poor conditions at the site had “contributed to the psychological state that leads to people self-harming,” and had also led to people “stealing food, rushing doors, (and engaging in) organized unrest.

“All of that comes from and is driven by being restrained in conditions which are not designed to meet basic human needs,” Moreton added.

The investigation also found evidence of fights breaking out between different groups of people divided by nationality and suggested that inadequate medical attention had been given to asylum-seekers in some instances because staff felt people were “faking” the severity of their conditions.

On Oct. 2, a staff member wrote in a report on one such case, which led to an asylum-seeker requiring hospitalization: “More care was given by (a detainee custody officer) than any medic on site…I got the feeling the medics thought he was faking the injury.”

Staff reported a “very tense” atmosphere at the site, and on Oct. 14 a man was physically restrained for his and others’ safety after becoming “irate” because he had not been given anything to eat, “shouting about the food and that he was not a dog.”

There were also numerous instances of people trying to break out of the Manston facility, with a report on Oct. 25 claiming “migrants were attempting to rush the doors” after a “sit-down protest outside the tent compound.”

Idel Hanley, policy manager at the charity Medical Justice, told The Independent: “Many people at Manston will have histories of torture and trauma. This information indicates a situation which was chaotic and frightening, with little accountability or liability.”

Concerns were also raised that many of the reports filed on force used had come from staff from one contracting firm, Mitie, and from Clandestine Threat Command officers, but that none had been submitted by employees of another private contractor, Interforce. This was despite evidence that their staff had restrained asylum-seekers and that the prisons inspectorate insisted all staff must “complete appropriate reports promptly and in detail” to “identify possible ill-treatment.”

The Prison Officers Association’s Andy Baxter told The Independent: “Interforce contract staff were brought on site very quickly in response to the rapid expansion of Manston, and the staff in parts of the facility did not have the correct level of training and interpersonal skills to recognise and defuse conflict situations.”

Moreton added that private contractors lack the legal powers of Home Office staff and could only act in self-defense or the defense of others. 

“The Home Office was aware of serious concerns raised by staff and others about the length of time migrants were held for, and queries about the possible legality of that detention,” Moreton said. “Staff were being asked to perform public control functions, which are outside of their legal remit and their training. It was a very frightening time for all concerned.”

The UK received more than 45,000 asylum-seekers via the English Channel last year, with 1,200 making the trip in January 2023. Over 140,000 are currently awaiting decisions on their asylum applications and remain in temporary accommodation in hotels and other places, including sites like Manston, initially meant only to process new arrivals.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We take the safety and welfare of those in our care extremely seriously. Significant improvements have been made to facilities at Manston in recent months, following unprecedented numbers of people crossing the Channel last autumn, and the site remains well-resourced for future arrivals.

“All on-site staff receive the relevant training required for their roles, and all operational activities are risk-assessed and subject to review.

“The Home Office ensures all its contractors employ people in accordance with their wider legal obligations, and we expect high standards from all of our providers and their staff to keep those in our care safe.”