The FBI was rocked last month by the indictment of Charles F. McGonigal, a top counterintelligence official in New York accused of selling access to Russian and Albanian officials in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars. McGonigal's alleged corruption took place while he was supposed to be monitoring and thwarting the intelligence efforts of foreign powers.
According to a report from Mother Jones, McGonigal's case has cast attention on a little-known Russia-linked effort to promote a conservative Albanian political party in the U.S.
"The tale of this influence operation is a complicated one that Mother Jonesrevealed in 2018. The main disclosure was that a mysterious shell company registered in Scotland called Biniatta Trade — which was created by two Belize companies that were partly controlled by two British companies that were each controlled by a different Russian national — paid $150,000 in early 2017 to a Washington lobbyist named Nick Muzin to promote in the United States the Democratic Party of Albania, the conservative party opposed to Rama’s government," Mother Jones' report stated.
Muzin worked on Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and used his contacts to build up support in the GOP for Lulzim Basha, the DPA leader, who was campaigning to become prime minister of Albania, and connected him various conservative players in D.C. Basha was running as a populist nationalist and a Trump fan. He even pushed the slogan “Make Albania Great Again.” Basha ultimately didn't end up winning.
While the lobbying efforts for Basha were not unusual, what was unusual was the fact that the Scottish shell company, Biniatta Trade, was funding most of Muzin's efforts.
"There were no public signs this company was engaged in any commerce. It had a phony looking, generic website that was linked to similar websites for other companies that had no public footprints. (The Biniatta Trade website is no longer functioning.) The company shared a British phone number with an “international online dating service” that offered 'beautiful Ukrainian women for dating and marriage,'" Mother Jones reports.
Muzin tells Mother Jones he thought Biniatta Trade was a private company owned by supporters of the DPA. He didn't reveal how he first came into contact with Biniatta Trade.
"Last fall, a US intelligence finding noted that Russia had spent about $300 million since 2014 to influence politics in other countries to its favor," Mother Jones reported. An administration source told the AFP that this included spending 'around $500,000 to back Albania’s center-right Democratic Party in 2017 elections.'"
Read the full report at Mother Jones.