What if Michael Flynn’s cooperation had nothing to do with Russia and collusion? His former business partner made a surprise appearance in federal court this morning to answer an indictment under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). Prosecutors accused Bijan Rafiekian, a former VP of the Flynn Intel Group, and Kamil Alpetkin of illegally lobbying for Turkey in an attempt to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan:
Two of Michael Flynn's business associates indicted for alleged conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and other charges; case tied to efforts to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.@PeteWilliamsNBC reports. pic.twitter.com/Wfu0Hc0Dyq
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) December 17, 2018
A former business partner of Michael Flynn is being charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy for attempting to get Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the United States.
Bijan Kian made his first appearance in Alexandria federal court Monday morning. According to the indictment, Kian conspired with Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to illegally lobby U.S. government officials and influence public opinion in the U.S. against Gulen.
Only Rafiekian (or Kian) appeared in court. Alptekin is in Turkey and will not be likely to come to the US to face these charges. Erdogan certainly won’t extradite anyone charged by the US for helping him getting his hands on Gulen, whom Erdogan blames for a purported coup that Erdogan put down and then used to greatly enhance his own powers in Turkey.
The timing is certainly interesting. Pete Williams suggests that it’s possible that feds hauled Flynn’s business partner into court a day before Flynn’s sentencing hearing in the Mueller case. It’s possible, but it’s not too likely. Investigators probably wanted to make sure they kept their hands on Rafiekian even if they can’t do the same with Alpetkin.
So is this the cooperation Flynn provided Mueller and the Department of Justice? That’s tough to say, too, although Mueller’s filings on Flynn lack any mentions of Russia collusion. Furthermore, this suggests that Mueller had a lot more leverage on Flynn than just a questionable lie to the FBI during what was supposed to be a friendly discussion. If Rafiekian and Alptekin were illegally lobbying for Turkey to get Gulen extradited while working for Flynn, then it’s a safe bet that Flynn was at least somewhat involved in that effort too. That may be why Flynn’s satisfied to take a plea on an 18 USC 1001 charge that will carry no prison time.
Mueller’s filings did note that Flynn was providing assistance to several investigations, including a “criminal probe,” the details of which had been redacted. This certainly fits the bill. But if this is the criminal probe Flynn assisted, what does that say about Mueller’s probe about Donald Trump and Russia collusion?
Addendum: NBC notes that there may have been more to this than just FARA, but that Flynn might not have known of the Turkish government’s involvement:
The pair kept secret that the work was in fact directed by the Turkish government, federal prosecutors said.
The scheme included using a Dutch company owned by Alptekin, Inovo, to appear to be the “client” of Flynn’s firm and pay the fee of $600,000 in three installments, according to the indictment.
Alptekin made the payments to Flynn’s firm from an account in Turkey.
“The indictment alleges that after Alptekin made the payments to Company A, it was to kick back 20 percent of the payments to Alptekin’s company in the Netherlands, and two such kickbacks were made,” the Justice Department said in a statement.
If Flynn knew about the kickbacks, that might have opened him up to other charges too, but he’s not being charged with anything like that.