Federal prosecutors have indicted the former business partner of President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser with failing to register as a foreign agent, laying out the most detailed account yet of Turkish government efforts to persuade the US to extradite a political opponent of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The indictment against Bijan Kian, who was former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s partner in the now defunct Flynn Intel Group, also charged Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin with making false statements by claiming his company paid for the work Flynn’s company did when in fact the work was done at the “continuing direction and control” of the Turkish government.
Flynn was forced out of his position in the administration over lies about his discussions with the then-Russian ambassador to the US — a move that made him an early focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Flynn pleaded guilty last year, however, to a single count of making a false statement in conjunction with his Turkish work. He had since cooperated with Mueller’s office and other investigations, and the new indictment spells out in greater detail how Flynn, while receiving classified intelligence briefings as Trump’s foreign policy campaign adviser, took direction from Turkish officials for his work.
In a sentencing memo filed in his case on Dec. 4, Mueller referenced “substantial assistance” Flynn gave in a criminal investigation, but the specifics were redacted and appeared to relate to an investigation outside of Mueller’s office. Kian and Alptekin’s charges, which were filed by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and not by Mueller’s office, would appear to match that investigation.
Monday’s indictment, dated Dec. 12, was unsealed Monday in conjunction with Kian’s initial appearance in court, represented by his attorney, Robert Trout. The government is not seeking Kian’s detention pending trial and he was released on a personal recognizance bond. His arraignment is set for 10 am Tuesday.
Flynn’s sentencing is also set for Tuesday.
Kian and Alptekin have been friends and business partners since 2009, when they met through a mutual friend while Kian was an official at the Export-Import Bank. Alptekin previously told BuzzFeed News of their work with Flynn, “We did nothing wrong and we’re being vilified and demonized in the press and getting threats and our careers are being destroyed.”
While Kian was the head of Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group was paid more than $500,000 by Altpekin, in part to produce a documentary to boost Turkey’s international image after the botched military coup in the summer of 2016. They hired a professional crew as well as a former VICE News correspondent for the project, but it was never completed.
The Flynn Intel Group’s lobbying work centered on influencing public opinion in the US against Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Erdogan’s government accuses him of instigating a failed 2016 coup, and has been pushing for his extradition.
The indictment confirms for the first time officially that the US Justice Department had rejected Turkish government’s extradition efforts, noting “the requests had not yet met the legal standards for extradition required … by US law.”
According to the indictment, the Justice Department contacted Flynn after an opinion column advocating for Gulen’s extradition appeared under Flynn’s name on The Hill website. The column also defended Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents and called Turkey “vital to US interests.”
The new indictment detailed the process by which that op-ed came together, including specific language that was used by Kian, also named as Rafiekian, and in talking points that later appeared in Flynn’s op-ed.
However, the retired Army lieutenant general acknowledged last year that a foreign government directed his actions while he served on the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser, and sat in classified briefings.
In a court filing in December last year, Flynn admitted that “officials from the Republic of Turkey had provided supervision and direction” over his firm’s lobbying work, called the “Turkey project” in the document and headed by Kian.
Alptekin and Turkish officials have vehemently denied that their lobbying was connected to the Turkish government.