Flash News


Peter Lucas: Blinken's visit to Tirana to distract McGonigal

Peter Lucas: Blinken's visit to Tirana to distract McGonigal

By Peter Lucas, Boston Herald

It was more than a coincidence.

While Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Tirana praising Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama last week, a disgraced FBI agent with ties to Rama was sentenced to prison on bribery charges.

Former FBI spy Charles McGonigal, 55, once the head of the FBI's counterintelligence office in New York, was sentenced to two years in prison last Friday after pleading guilty to accepting a $225,000 payment in money.

The money came from a former Albanian intelligence agent, Agron Neza, now an American citizen, who attended meetings with McGonigal and Rama, both in Washington and in Tirana.

The sentence is on top of the four years McGonigal was previously given for conspiring to violate sanctions on Russia by going to work for Russian Oleg Deripaska, whom he once investigated.

McGonigal, who admitted to having an ongoing affair with Rama, secretly met with Rama and Neza on several occasions.

In a meeting in Tirana on September 9, 2017, of which the FBI knew nothing, McGonigal discussed, among other things, oil field drilling contracts with Rama. McGonigal even presented Rama with an FBI baseball cap.

Soon after, McGonigal allegedly accepted the money in several payments from Neza during meetings in New York. It is not clear what McGonigal did in exchange for the money.

Rama has denied any wrongdoing. And he has not been put under investigation, not even in the USA and certainly not in Albania, which he controls.

That September visit was one of several trips McGonigal made to Albania, a small former communist country where political corruption and drug money laundering are common.

McGonigal's arrest caused a political firestorm in Albania. However, Rama, the leader of the Socialist Party, was able to overcome the storm.

He has been aided by Blinken, the US Embassy and the State Department, all of whom continue to back him while cracking down on Rama's main political opponent, former prime minister Sali Berisha of the center-right Democratic Party.

Berisha, 79, seeking a political comeback, is running against Rama in 2025.

Blinken is up to his neck in Albanian politics, which may stem from Berisha's previous attacks on George Soros, a friend of the Blinken family, who has sought to influence Albanian politics and its justice system.

Blinken's ambassador to Albania, Yuri Kim, jumped into Albanian politics like no other American official has ever done. She tried to get Berisha out of the Democratic Party, which he founded after the fall of communism. Failing that, she tried to remove him as an MP.

Blinken previously did Rama a huge favor when he barred Berisha, a former State Department darling, from entering the US.

He declared Berisha as "persona non grata" for unspecified "corrupt acts" that allegedly occurred when Berisha was in power eight years ago.

Most recently, Rama placed Berisha under house arrest in December for the suspected corruption of a land deal 15 years ago.

Berisha, Albania's first popularly elected leader after the fall of communism, served as president from 1992-1997 and again as prime minister from 2005-2013.

Blinken's brief stopover in Tirana, en route to the Munich Security Conference, served as a major public relations distraction for the McGonigal/Rama relationship and McGonigal's conviction. A grateful Rama greeted Blinken as if he were the head of state.

The visit also symbolized Blinken's approval of Rama's decision to arrest Berisha and cripple his campaign. "Corrupt officials are being held accountable," Blinken told Albanian reporters, indicating he was referring to Berisha, not McGonigal or anyone else in Albania.

Meanwhile, Berisha speaks every night from the balcony of his apartment in Tirana to the supporters who gather in the street below.

Like Joe Biden, Edi Rama with the help of Blinken is making sure that his opponent campaigns from a prison cell. Politics in Albania is tribal, vile and vindictive, just like in America.

Berisha is certainly not a saint, but neither is Rama. The last Albanian saint was Mother Teresa and she took the last train to the coast.

The unanswered question is: Where did the $225,000 profit come from and what was it for?

Latest news