National Security

Michael Flynn associates charged over illegal lobbying for Turkey

Associates of onetime national security adviser Michael Flynn are being charged with illegally lobbying for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Turkish cleric who has been a frequent public target of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Federal prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia on Monday unsealed charges against Bijan Kian, who worked as a partner at the now-defunct Flynn Intel Group, for working as an unregistered foreign agent. Kian, also known by Bijan Rafiekian, has been charged alongside Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish national and associate of Flynn who is currently believed to be in Istanbul.

{mosads}The charges were revealed one day before Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington, D.C. for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.

Flynn, who was not among those charged on Monday, pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements last December and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference.

Flynn, a top Trump campaign surrogate, came under scrutiny after writing an op-ed in The Hill newspaper on Election Day 2016 in which he defended Erdoğan amid growing concerns over a crackdown on dissidents.

The charges unsealed Monday appear to stem from Mueller’s investigation, though the special counsel’s office declined to comment. NBC News reported in November of last year that Kian had become a subject of Mueller’s probe.

The U.S. attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia also declined to comment on whether the case was a referral from Mueller. 

The Dec. 12 indictment unsealed Monday alleges that Kian and Alptekin “conspired covertly and unlawfully to influence U.S. politicians and public opinion concerning a Turkish citizen living in the United States whose extradition was then being sought by the Government of Turkey.” The indictment does not specifically name Gülen, but he is widely assumed to be the Turkish citizen referenced in it. Turkish government officials have accused Gülen, who is currently based in the U.S., of instigating a failed coup in 2016.

“The defendants sought to discredit and delegitimize the Turkish citizen in the eyes of politicians and the public, and ultimately to secure the Turkish citizen’s extradition,” the filing states. “Although the Government of Turkey directed the work through Alptekin, the defendants sought to conceal Turkey’s involvement in the efforts to discredit the Turkish citizen.”

Flynn is not identified by name in the filing. Instead, he is referred to as “Person A,” an individual with whom Kian founded “Company A” – the Flynn Intel Group.

Together, Kian and Alptekin allegedly hid the Flynn Intel Group’s work for Turkish officials by listing Alptekin’s company as its client rather than the Turkish government. Alptekin is described as having “close ties to the highest levels of the Government of Turkey.”

Prosecutors allege that Alptekin’s company, identified as “Company B,” was used to pay Kian and his associates “although it is clear that Turkish government officials approved the budget for, and received regular updates on, the progress of Company A’s work,” according to the filing.

The covert lobbying effort, branded the “Truth Campaign” and later “Operation Confidence,” involved Kian and others lobbying an unnamed member of Congress, a congressional staffer and a state government in fall 2016, according to prosecutors. The filing also mentions Flynn’s op-ed as part of the project. 

“Company A” is said to have earned $600,000 for their work. Alptekin’s company also allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks.

In March 2017, Flynn retroactively disclosed to the Justice Department that his firm’s work for Inovo may have benefited the Turkish government. But prosecutors allege that Kian and Alptekin lied to attorney’s for the Flynn Intel Group about the involvement of Turkish officials in the project in order to conceal it from the Justice Department. 

Prosecutors say Kian and Alptekin knowingly provided false information on federal lobbying disclosure forms about the company’s work for the Turkish government, in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 

Kian and Alptekin both face charges of conspiracy and acting as illegal agents of a foreign government. Alptekin is also being charged with four counts of making false statements to the FBI.

Kian, who lives in California, appeared in court on Monday morning in Alexandria, Va.

Read indictment by Anonymous 7cl3c7Ch on Scribd

This report was updated at 12:44 p.m.

Tags Federal charges Flynn associates Robert Mueller Turkey
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