Michael Flynn’s former associate charged with secret lobbying for Turkey against Fethullah Gulen – Donald Trump’s America
An ex-business partner of former US national security adviser Michael Flynn and a businessman with ties to Turkish Government officials have been charged with undisclosed lobbying aimed at the extradition of a Muslim cleric living in the United States.
- White House denies US President Donald Trump was working to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen to Turkey
- Man linked to US national security adviser Michael Flynn indicted for conspiracy to act as a foreign government agent
- Investigation into Russian collusion in the US election has spawned at least four spinoff probes
Mr Flynn’s former partner, Bijan Rafiekian, was indicted on two criminal counts, including conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed on Monday in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish-Dutch businessman, was charged for allegedly plotting with Turkish officials to cause the extradition of Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and for lying to the FBI about his efforts, among six total counts.
A spokesperson for Mr Alptekin said he denied the allegations.
Mueller investigation prompts spinoff collusion probes
The charges underscored the broadening impact of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which is focused on possible collusion between Russia and US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign, but which has led to at least four spinoff probes including the case against Mr Alptekin and Mr Rafiekian.
The charges Mr Flynn has pleaded guilty to carry a sentence of up to five years in prison. (AP: Carolyn Kaster)
Coming on the heels of guilty pleas by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and political operative Samuel Patten for similar crimes, the indictments also highlight a newfound interest at the Justice Department in enforcing a law requiring disclosure of lobbying for foreign interests.
“I don’t think anyone took that law very seriously, but perhaps these indictments will change that,” criminal defence lawyer Page Pate said.
Mr Flynn, who is due to be sentenced on Tuesday (local time) for lying to the FBI in relation to his contacts with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, has also admitted to lying about his role in the Turkish lobbying effort and has been cooperating with prosecutors on the probe.
Masking Turkey’s involvement
Gulen followers are harassed by supporters of Turkey’s President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan. (Reuters: Thilo Schmuelgen)
The indictment alleges that Mr Rafiekian and Mr Alptekin made false statements about the project in filings to the Department of Justice in order to mask the involvement of the Turkish Government, which had been pushing for the extradition of Mr Gulen, identified only as a Turkish citizen in the indictment.
“The defendants sought to discredit and delegitimise 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 wrote.
Mr Rafiekian was a former director at the US Export-Import Bank and a co-founder of the Flynn Intel Group (FIG), the consultancy at the heart of the case. His lawyer, Robert Trout, declined to comment.
Mr Alptekin, 41, maintained that he was Mr Flynn’s client, not Turkey, a spokeswoman Molly Toomey said.
“Ekim remains adamant that he — and he alone — ultimately moved forward with hiring FIG, paying them, and directing their work,” she said.
Mr Alptekin remains at large outside the US and it was not clear if he would ever challenge the charges in court.
The Gulen connection
Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, pictured in 2016, fears extradition from the US to Turkey. (AP: Chris Post, file)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Mr Gulen for stoking a failed coup against him in 2016. Mr Edogan’s Foreign Minister grabbed headlines on Sunday by saying that Mr Trump told the Turkish President that Washington was working on extraditing the cleric.
A senior White House official pushed back on the Turkish Foreign Minister’s assertion, stressing that Mr Trump did not commit to extraditing Mr Gulen during a meeting with Mr Erdogan at the G20 summit two weeks ago.
Mr Gulen denies involvement in the coup attempt.
The Alliance for Shared Values, a non-profit organisation affiliated with Mr Gulen, said in a statement that the indictments illustrated “just how far the Erdogan Government will go in breaking US law”.
For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Donald Trump’s next move could be the end of Turkey-Israel relations. (Reuters: Joshua Roberts, file photo)
Mr Flynn’s work on the Turkey project came under scrutiny after he published a commentary on a political news website on the day of the 2016 presidential election calling Mr Gulen a “radical Islamist” who should be extradited to Turkey.
Along with the editorial, the Flynn Intel Group produced a report on Mr Gulen and video for a documentary that was never made.
Of the roughly $600,000 paid to Mr Flynn’s company, $80,000 was sent back to Mr Alptekin through his Netherlands-based firm Inovo BV, Justice Department filings show.
During an interview with the FBI, Mr Alptekin said that while he had discussed the project with a Turkish Government minister, he decided to go ahead and retain the Flynn Intel Group himself after the Turkish Government “dropped the ball”.