Russians Oligarchs Sure Do Love to Invest in America

Charles Pierce / Esquire
Russians Oligarchs Sure Do Love to Invest in America Whenever a shady business deal comes to light involving Russian money and American politics, Oleg Deripaska seems to be flitting around somewhere in the background. (photo: Natalia Kolesnikova/Getty)

Even when they're not supposed to! Even—allegedly—in the FBI!

The New York field office of the FBI has been a problem since it bullyragged James Comey during the 2016 presidential campaign. It has hungered for a Clinton head to hang on its lobby wall for almost two decades. On Monday, however, the office found itself wearing a sentence that included the phrases, "FBI official," "indicted by," and "Russian oligarch," which is a chain with several balls attached to it. From The New York Times:

The former official, Charles McGonigal, who had been the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division in New York before he retired in 2018, had supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan said. Federal prosecutors said Mr. McGonigal, 54, broke U.S. law by agreeing to help Mr. Deripaska, who himself was indicted last year on sanctions charges, attempt to get off the sanctions list and by investigating a rival oligarch. The charges are an extremely serious and rare accusation against an F.B.I. official, and they demonstrate that the reach of Russia’s oligarchs can extend into the heart of American law enforcement.

Deripaska is the Zelig of the Volga Bagmen. Whenever a shady business deal comes to light involving Russian money and American politics, Deripaska seems to be flitting around somewhere in the background. Now we find that he allegedly tied himself into the counterintelligence division in the New York office, which opens a sprawling vista of interesting speculation.

“Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin and are associated with acts of bribery, extortion and violence,” Mr. Driscoll said. “There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former F.B.I. official like Mr. McGonigal.”[...] Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was a client of Paul Manafort, who for several months in 2016 served as Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman and in 2018 was convicted of financial fraud and other crimes.

I've always thought that the question of who invested in the former president* and his operation, and how much, was deserving of some closer scrutiny.

But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.

The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics. People from the second and third tiers of Russian power have invested in the Trump buildings as well. One recently posted a photo of himself with the leader of a Russian motorcycle gang that was sanctioned by the United States for its alleged role in Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.

They sound nice.

One might assume McGonigal is acquainted with the counterintelligence investigations that were underway in New York before he left the bureau in 2018. Whether or not any of those might prove relevant to the present action, the pleadings and the discovery here should make for fascinating reading.

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