Exclusive: Retired FBI counterintelligence executive and the current subject of twin indictments Charles McGonigal was part of a Kremlin scheme to replace US operators of Albanian oil fields with affiliates of Russia’s sanctioned behemoth Gazprom.
On March 15, 2023, Narativ broadcast Zev Shalev’s interview with Mark Crawford, honorary chairman of the Albanian American Chamber of Commerce. Crawford was an eyewitness to some of the Albanian dealings of Charles McGonigal, retired special agent in charge of counterintelligence, at the FBI’s New York Field Office, who is currently under indictment for his transactions with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and EN+ the sanctioned firm of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. This interview exposed the former FBI counterintelligence executive’s alleged role in bringing Russia’s energy giant Gazprom into the Albanian market and pushing out US interests already operating in the country. The whole episode and the corresponding Narativ feature article are directly below.
When a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker sailed into the Albanian port of Durres in late February, it was greeted by local police who suspected it was carrying sanctioned-Russian fuel on board. The vessel’s journey began in Azerbaijan and involved a single stop in Greece, where a shipment of 22.500 tonnes of diesel fuel was transferred onto the tanker. The vessel was seized, and All 22 crew members were arrested pending an investigation.
The sudden arrival of laundered Russian oil on its shores has led some Albanian analysts to connect the incident to the McGonigal Affair. Charlie McGonigal is a retired FBI counterintelligence executive who is facing separate charges for his ties with the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and the sanctioned firm of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
The indictments allege that McGonigal’s employment by Deripaska’s firm represents a severe violation of US sanctions, but that may only be a part of the story. As Narativ exclusively reported last month, McGonigal had ties to a scheme to replace the American owners of three Albanian oil fields with affiliates of Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The Albanian government nationalized the fields in Jan 2017 in response to a bid from an Austrian firm Jurimex Commerz Tranzit Ges, a phantom company acting as a proxy for Gazprom’s Serbian affiliate, Naftna Industrja Srbje.
The Austrian bid prompted a blistering letter from an Albanian businessman, Shefteq Dizdari, the operator of a Swiss-Albanian firm, TransOil, which is also n affiliate of Gazprom. In the letter, Dizdari accuses Gazprom of violating its deal with TransOil by joining the Austrian-Serbian bid.
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Dizdari addressed the letter to Gazprom’s deputy director general of business development Vladislav Baryshnikov. In it, Dizdari lambasts the “ethically, professionally and legally senseless individuals” he said were involved in “illegal activities” which “casts a strong shadows [SIC] of doubt on the purposes and strategies of a clean and true international business [such as Gazprom].”
Dizdari also says in the letter that he made his position clear to Baryshnikov in a meeting in St. Petersberg and to the “highest levels” of the Russian embassy in Albania’s capital, Tirane.
Dizdari’s letter appears to have produced the desired effect as Gazprom eventually partnered with TransOil in a separate bid for the oil fields, which they eventually won but is still being contested in litigation.
DUELING RUSSIAN BIDS
The decision to award TransOil the fields also came after an u orthodox visit from Charlie McGonigal to Albania in September 2017 – while still employed by the FBI – including a meeting with prime minister Edi Rama. According to the indictment, McGonigal asked Rama not to grant the oil fields to the Russians during the meeting.
Soon after the apparent intervention by the now-retired FBI agent, McGonigal received the first installment of a $225,000 potential bribe in the parking lot of a New Jersey restaurant.
In 2019, after deepening his connections with the TransOil executives through multiple visits in Albania and the US, McGonigal and another retired FBI agent Mark Rossini formed an LLC with Dizdari in Albania – an LLC for a legal firm called “Law and investigations” registered in Tirane.
A SANCTIONS BUSTING EFFORT
Why the FBI agents set up shop in Albania wasn’t immediately clear, but the association with Dizdari suggests a connection to the three oil fields previously awarded to Transoil.
Now that Narativ has exposed the association between Transoil and Gazprom, the implications for McGonigal are steep as it places the former special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI’s New York Office directly n the Kremlin’s orbit and implicates him in a scheme that benefits Russia and hurts US interest in the region.
Gazprom is subject to US sanctions partly because the Kremlin often uses it as a weapon of state influence to exert pressure on neighboring countries. Any involvement with Gazprom also inevitably raises serious questions about the work McGonigal did at the FBI, where Gazprom and Deripaska would surely have fallen into McGonigal’s investigatory purview.
McGonigal and Rossini stood to make a fortune off their legal firm if it came to fruition by facilitating the paperwork and potential reflagging of Russian oil sanctioned during the Ukraine war. Adding credence to this theory is the type of oil the three fields typically yielded is used as a diluent – a technical term that refers to a thinning agent which could be mixed with heavy crude petroleum to reduce its viscosity and make it easier to transport—exactly the type of Russian crude oil discovered aboard that Liberian-flagged tanker.