Michael Flynn’s Business Partners Charged In Covert Turkish Lobbying Scheme

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • Two former business partners of Michael Flynn’s were indicted Monday in an alleged scheme to lobby covertly for the Turkish government.
  • The two Flynn associates were accused of operating a kickback scheme. Flynn’s client, Ekim Alptekin, paid Flynn’s company $530,000 but received $80,000 in kickback payments, according to prosecutors.
  • Flynn is not charged in the case.

Two former business partners of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s have been indicted as part of a secret Turkish lobbying scheme, which involved kickback payments made to a Turkish businessman with links to the Turkish government.

Indictments against the two Flynn associates, Bijan Rafiekian and Ekim Alptekin, were unsealed in federal court in Virginia on Monday.

They are both charged with conspiracy to operate as unregistered foreign agents and lying to the FBI. In the indictments, Rafiekian and Alptekin are accused of operating at the direction of Turkish government officials to use the Flynn Intel Group, a consulting firm founded by Flynn, to obtain the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a foe of the Turkish government who is living in exile in the U.S.

Emails cited in the indictment show Alptekin and Rafiekian discussing budgets submitted by Turkish officials.

Rafiekian, a former director for the Export-Import Bank, was a partner at Flynn Intel Group, which Flynn founded after retiring from the military in 2014.

In August 2016, Flynn Intel signed a $600,000 contract with Inovo BV, a Dutch shell company operated by Alptekin, whose trade group is indirectly controlled by the Turkish government. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Michael Flynn Is Lobbying For The Turkish Government)

The contract between Inovo and Flynn Intel called for Flynn’s firm to investigate Gulen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan alleges was behind the failed July 15, 2016 coup attempt in Turkey.

The Daily Caller uncovered the relationship between Flynn Intel and Inovo days after Flynn published an Election Day op-ed at The Hill calling for Gulen’s extradition.

U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

In the article, Flynn called Gulen a “shady Islamic mullah” and “radical Islamist” who should be removed from the U.S. to improve relations with Turkey.

As part of the contract, Flynn Intel was to investigate Gulen and potentially make criminal referrals to the government about the cleric, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania. Flynn Intel used an “investigative laboratory” consisting of a team of consultants, including former FBI officials, on the project.

Alptekin initially denied to The Daily Caller in November 2016 that his main purpose in hiring Flynn was to extradite Gulen. He said in a phone interview that he hired Flynn to help secure a deal with Ratio Energy, an Israeli energy company.

According to the indictment, Rafiekian and Alptekin “were involved in a conspiracy to covertly influence U.S. politicians and public opinion against a Turkish citizen living in the United States whose extradition had been requested by the Government of Turkey.”

The conspirators “sought to conceal that the Government of Turkey was directing the work,” according to the indictment.

The indictment cites a July 29, 2016 email in which Alptekin told Rafiekian that a Turkish government minister was “interested in exploring this seriously and it is likely he’ll want to meet with you and [Flynn].”

“He asked me to formulate what kind of output we can generate on the short and mid-term as well as an indicative budget,” wrote Alptekin.

Alptekin made other references to discussions with Turkish officials about paying for the project, which was dubbed “The Truth Campaign.”

On Aug. 10, 2016, Alptekin wrote to Rafiekian that he met with the Turkish official to explain their proposed approach to securing Gulen’s extradition.

“He is receptive and indicated he would like to meet with us during his upcoming visit to DC,” wrote Alptekin.

Alptekin said in another email that same day that he had met with the Turkish official and other Turkish minister and that he had “a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget and the scope of the contract.”

Alptekin, 41, made payments to Flynn Intel from an account in Turkey. As part of the alleged scheme, Flynn Intel “was to kick back 20 percent of the payments to Alptekin’s company in the Netherlands.”

“Two such kickbacks were made,” prosecutors claim.

Rafiekian emailed a budget of the project to Alptekin on Aug. 25, 2016 which included a 20 percent payment to Inovo BV.

Alptekin wired $200,000 to Flynn Intel on Sept. 9, 2016. Three days later, on Sept. 12, 2016, Rafiekian emailed an employee at Flynn Intel wire $40,000 to Alptekin, who he referred to as an “outside advisor” on the project. (RELATED: Mueller Team Investigating Possible Kickback Scheme Involving Flynn’s Turkish Client)

Rafiekian, Alptekin, Flynn and other employees of Flynn Intel met with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, and energy minister, Berat Albayrak, on Sept. 19, 2016 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York City.

Alptekin has claimed to The Daily Caller that he arranged the meeting with Cavusoglu and Albayrak on short notice and that it had nothing to do with the Gulen project. But the indictment shows that Alptekin planned the meeting weeks in advance.

Flynn, who is not been charged in the case, was also aware that Alptekin was in contact with the Turkish officials, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors say that Alptekin relayed updates on the project to Turkish officials and “informed RAFIEKIAN and Person A whether the Turkish officials were satisfied with the work Company A was performing.”

On Oct. 22, 2016, Flynn sent a text message to the team working on the project, including Kian, writing: “I walked [ALPTEKIN] through the social media analysis which he found very interesting and worth talking to [Turkish Minister #1 about as well as all the other talking points.”

Rafiekian and Alptekin also discussed writing the op-ed against Gulen, according to the indictment. That undercuts Alptekin’s claims to The Daily Caller that he would have advised Flynn against writing the op-ed.

“Mr. Flynn has not asked for my permission to write or publish the article. If he had asked me, I would have strongly advised him not to publish the article because I knew the Fetullah Gulen lobby and PR machine will do everything in their power to demonize him; which is exactly what they did,” Alptekin told TheDC on Nov. 19, 2016.

The indictment also claims that Rafiekian and Alptekin lied to Flynn Intel’s lawyers about the nature of their work.

Rafiekian claimed that Alptekin did not want the anti-Gulen op-ed published and that the kickback payments to Inovo BV were refunds for lobbying activities that were not performed. Alptekin falsely told the lawyers that he was not consulted about the op-ed and that his goal in hiring Flynn Intel was to obtain an energy deal with Ratio Energy.

It is likely that Flynn cooperated with prosecutors in the case against Rafiekian and Alptekin.

On Dec. 4, Mueller’s team submitted a court filing that revealed Flynn had provided substantial assistance for an investigation that is separate from the Russia probe.

In his Dec. 1, 2017 plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller, Flynn admitted to making false statements to the Justice Department when registering as a foreign agent of Turkey on March 7, 2017. Flynn claimed in that filing that he wrote the Gulen op-ed on his own initiative. He later admitted that the op-ed was part of the covert Turkish lobbying project.

As part of his plea deal, Flynn would not be face any charges related to his false statements about his Turkish lobbying efforts.

He faces sentencing on Tuesday.

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