Flynn’s former business partner charged with secret lobbying for Turkey

Gen. Michael Flynn, center, former national security adviser to US President Donald Trump, leaves Federal Court in Washington in this Dec. 1, 2017 file photo. — AFP

WASHINGTON — An ex-business partner of former US National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a businessman with ties to Turkish government officials were charged with undisclosed lobbying aimed at ensuring the extradition of a Muslim cleric living in the United States.

Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Rafiekian, was indicted on two criminal counts in the Eastern District of Virginia, including conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed on Monday.

Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman, was also charged for allegedly plotting with government ministers in Turkey to discredit and cause the extradition of Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and for lying to the FBI about his efforts.

The probe into the Turkish lobbing effort had been under the purview of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US election before being handed back to federal prosecutors in Virginia earlier this year.

Flynn, who is due to be sentenced on Tuesday for lying to the FBI related to his contacts with the Russian ambassador, has also admitted to lying about his role in the Turkish lobbying effort and has been cooperating with prosecutors on the probe.

The indictment alleges that Rafiekian and Alptekin made false statements about the project in filings to the Department of Justice unit that governs a law requiring that lobbying on behalf of foreign interests be disclosed.

“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,” attorneys for the Eastern District of Virginia said in the indictment.

While the Turkish citizen was not named, the person fits the description of Gulen, a one-time ally of Erdogan who lives in a compound in rural Pennsylvania.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Gulen for stoking a failed coup against him in 2016. Gulen denies that.

A representative for Alptekin, 41, who was charged with six criminal counts, said she did not immediately have a comment.

A lawyer for Rafiekian, 66, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkey has since 2016 pushed the US Justice Department to extradite Gulen, but those requests were rebuffed because they lacked sufficient evidence under extradition treaty and US law, the indictment says.

Turkey’s foreign minister said on Sunday that US President Donald Trump has told Erdogan that Washington was working on extraditing Gulen.

The indictment alleges Rafiekian and Alptekin sought to mask the involvement of Turkey’s government by paying the Flynn Intel Group roughly $600,000 in fees through a Netherlands-based company, Inovo, which was controlled Alptekin.

Justice Department filings in 2017 show that Flynn’s consulting firm routed $80,000 in “consultancy fees” back to Inovo. Alptekin has previously described those payments as reimbursements for consulting work that was never finished.

The indictment says the $80,000 was part of a pre-arranged plan to kick back 20 percent of the project to Alptekin.

Alptekin, who was chairman of the Turkey-US Business Council, said in prior interviews that the payments to Flynn came from his personal funds and from Inovo. He has rejected allegations that he was being directed by the Turkish government.

The indictment cites an email from Alptekin to Rafiekian and another person in August 2016 in which Alptekin says that he had just spoken about the project to discredit Gulen with two Turkish ministers and had a “green light to discuss confidentiality, budget and the scope of the contract.” — Reuters