Two former associates of Michael Flynn have seized on the Justice Department’s motion to drop charges against the retired general to call for relief from charges that they illegally lobbied for the Turkish government.
Bijan Rafiekian, a former Flynn business partner, and Ekim Alptekin, a former Flynn client, claim to be collateral damage in the government’s investigation of Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in December 2017.
A grand jury in Virginia indicted Rafiekian and Alptekin in December 2018 on charges that they acted as unregistered agents of Turkey and conspired to conceal their efforts. Alptekin also faces four counts of making false statements to the FBI.
Rafiekian and Alptekin’s cases have taken two different paths since they were indicted, though they have both cited developments in Flynn’s case to call for reprieve in their own.
Rafiekian was convicted at trial on July 23, 2019, but the judge presiding over the case reversed the decision two months later. The Justice Department is appealing the decision, but Rafiekian’s lawyers have asked the Justice Department to drop the appeal.
Rafiekian’s lawyers sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Jeff Jensen on May 22 asserting that the case against their client was “a direct consequence of the government misconduct” that drove his decision to dismiss charges against Flynn.
Jensen was the prosecutor who recommended that charges against Flynn be dropped based on FBI documents that the Justice Department failed to turn over to Flynn’s legal team in his case. The Justice Department filed a motion to withdraw the charges on May 7.
“Accordingly, we would respectfully request that you undertake an examination of the prosecution of Rafiekian and make the appropriate recommendation to the Attorney General to dismiss the pending appeal of Rafiekian’s acquittal,” Rafiekian’s legal team wrote to Jensen, according to The New York Times.
Alptekin has not faced trial. He remains overseas and has not surrendered or been extradited. In the wake of the Flynn decision, Alptekin provided an interview to TRT World, a Turkish media outlet that the Justice Department requires to register as a foreign agent of Turkey, in which he claimed to be “collateral damage” because of his affiliation with Flynn.
“There is an organized effort to make me look like a criminal so that they can get to General Flynn. And my guess is they want to get to Donald Trump,” he said in the interview.
Alptekin, the former chairman of the Turkish-U.S. Business Council, hired Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, in August 2016 to mount a public pressure campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the U.S.
Alptekin hired Flynn Intel Group through a Dutch shell company called Inovo B.V. Prosecutors alleged that Alptekin, who has close ties to Turkish government officials, used the shell company to conceal the secret foreign lobbying effort.
Flynn Intel Group initially registered as a lobbyist for Inovo B.V. under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The company, along with Flynn and Alptekin, registered as foreign agents under the much more stringent Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) on March 7, 2017.
Alptekin agreed to pay Flynn Intel Group $600,000 to lobby Congress and mount a public pressure campaign with the goal of forcing the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the United States.
Prosecutors alleged that Turkish government officials directed the work through Alptekin.
They cited an email that Alptekin sent Rafiekian on July 29, 2016 following Alptekin’s meeting with a Turkish government official.
“He is interested in exploring this seriously and it is likely he’ll want to meet with you and [Flynn],” Alptekin wrote in the email, according to the indictment against Alptekin and Rafiekian.
“[H]e asked me to formulate what kind of output we can generate on the short and mid-term as well as an indicative budget.”
Alptekin emailed Rafiekian and Flynn on Aug. 10, 2016 following a meeting with two Turkish officials in which the Gulen project was purportedly discussed.
“I just finished in Ankara after several meetings today with [Turkish Minister #2] and [Turkish Minister #1]. I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget and the scope of the contract,” Alptekin wrote.
On Aug. 9, 2016, Alptekin and Flynn signed a $600,000 contract for the Gulen project.
As part of the contract, Flynn Intel Group put together an investigative team consisting of former intelligence operatives to investigate Gulen. Rafiekian also met with congressional staffers as part of the effort to force Gulen’s extradition.
Alptekin also arranged a meeting between Flynn, Rafiekian and two Turkish officials, Berat Albayrak and Mevlut Cavosoglu, on the sidelines of the U.N. general assembly in September 2016, where Gulen was discussed.
Flynn Intel Group’s work with Inovo B.V. came to light after Flynn published an op-ed in The Hill on Nov. 8, 2016, election day, calling for Gulen’s extradition.
The Daily Caller News Foundation reported three days later, Nov. 11, 2016, that Flynn Intel Group was lobbying for Alptekin’s firm.