Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn

Former Michael Flynn Business Associates Indicted in Turkey Lobbying Case

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By Adam Goldman and Mark Mazzetti

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (New York Times) — Two former business associates of Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, have been indicted as part of a federal investigation into Turkey’s secret 2016 lobbying campaign to pressure the United States to expel a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Charges against the two former associates, Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin, were unsealed on Monday, December 17, in an Alexandria, Va., courtroom. The two men were indicted last week as part of a conspiracy to violate federal lobbying rules, and Alptekin was also charged with making false statements to FBI investigators.

Ekim Alptekin

The indictment is further evidence of a broad crackdown on unregistered foreign lobbying growing from the inquiry by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who has investigated foreign flows of money from Ukraine, Turkey and other countries devised to manipulate decision-making in Washington. Mueller referred the Turkey case back to prosecutors in Northern Virginia.

The indictment said that the two men sought to conceal that Turkey was directing the work, and that cabinet-level Turkish officials approved the budget for the project and were given regular updates by Alptekin about the campaign’s progress. Flynn’s firm — Flynn Intel Group — received a total of $530,000 for its work.

“The defendants sought to discredit and delegitimize the Turkish citizen in the eyes of politicians and the public,” the indictment said.

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Kian appeared in court on Monday but was released after the hearing. His lawyer declined to comment. Prosecutors said that he faces up to 15 years in prison and Alptekin up to 35 years.

Alptekin’s current location is unknown. Through a spokeswoman, he denied the charges, claiming that he never lied to the F.B.I., and that Turkey did not participate in the project.

The investigation into Turkish lobbying began in 2016 after Flynn — a former general and businessman who was advising Trump’s political campaign — wrote an op-ed article for The Hill newspaper on Election Day attacking Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government has accused of helping instigate a failed coup.

The article called Gulen a “radical Islamist” and a “shady Islamic mullah.” The Justice Department began examining whether Flynn and his company were working as paid lobbyists for Turkey. Kian helped engineer the lobbying project, which involved trying to persuade members of Congress that Gulen ought to be extradited.

Flynn and Kian also commissioned a lengthy dossier titled “Fethullah Gulen: A Primer for Investigators,” which was written by Thomas Neer, a former F.B.I. agent.

Alptekin is a Turkish businessman close to Erdogan and helped finance the project. The indictment said that as part of the scheme, Alptekin used his company — a Dutch firm called Inovo BV — to conceal that Turkey’s government was behind the payments.

According to the indictment, Turkey’s government asked the United States in July 2016 to arrest and extradite Gulen, whom Turkish officials have accused of trying to overthrow Erdogan in the military coup earlier that month.

The Justice Department rejected Turkey’s request, the indictment said, because it had not met “the legal standards for extradition.”

The secret lobbying effort appears to have begun shortly afterward. Prosecutors said that on July 29, 2016, Alptekin sent an email to Kian saying that he had met with a Turkish government minister who was interested in exploring a lobbying campaign against Gulen.

They called the effort the “Truth Campaign” and later “Operation Confidence.”

In another email to Kian and Flynn, Alptekin said he had several meetings with a pair of Turkish ministers in Ankara. “I have a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget, and the scope of the contract,” the email said, according to the indictment.

One month later, the three men met in New York with a pair of Turkish ministers to discuss the campaign against Gulen, the indictment said.

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Days before the 2016 election, Alptekin complained to Kian that the project had not “publicized enough negative information” about Gulen. Six days later, Flynn published his op-ed.

In 2017, after the lobbying effort was exposed, Flynn and Kian filed additional disclosures acknowledging that the Gulen project “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” They detailed payments to other people and firms associated with the Gulen project.

When he pleaded guilty last December to lying to F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation, Flynn also admitted to prosecutors that he had repeatedly violated laws requiring firms to register their work on behalf of foreign clients.

Earlier this month, Mueller’s prosecutors issued a sentencing memorandum saying that Flynn had provided “substantial help” in several unspecified but continuing investigations. It is believed that the Turkey inquiry is one of these investigations, since he had direct knowledge of different aspects of the inquiry.

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