Two business associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn were charged with illegally influencing U.S. politicians in a plot to extradite a Turkish cleric from the U.S., according to an indictment unsealed Monday.
Prosecutors said Bijan Kian and Kamil Ekim Alptekin schemed to secretly build support in the U.S. government to return Fethullah Gulen from self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania to Turkey — a goal of the Turkish government, which has accused the cleric of being behind a failed 2016 coup.
“The defendants sought to discredit and delegitimize the Turkish citizen in the eyes of politicians and the public, and ultimately to secure the Turkish citizen’s extradition,” says the indictment, brought by prosecutors in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
In summer 2016, Flynn and the two defendants started a so-called “truth campaign” to delegitimize Mr. Gulen. The defendants used Flynn’s international lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, to damage Mr. Gulen’s reputation while keeping it a secret that the work was paid for by the Turkish government, according to the indictment.
The Turkish government used Mr. Alptekin’s company as a proxy, which then enlisted Flynn’s company — where Mr. Kian, also known as Bijan Rafiekian, was a partner — to initiate the campaign, the indictment says.
Flynn was not named, but he is widely believed to be “Person A” mentioned in the indictment. The filing details his lobbying on behalf of Turkish officials in late 2016, the same time he was working as an adviser to the Trump campaign and pushing for a high-level role in the future administration.
Flynn was texting and emailing others about Mr. Gulen and wrote an op-ed for the newspaper The Hill on Election Day 2016. Prosecutors say the language in the piece parrots a draft written by Mr. Kian.
The case is related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, though the charges were brought by a U.S. attorney’s office.
But Flynn, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to federal investigators, may have helped the case. This month, Mr. Mueller’s team said Flynn, a retired three-star general, had provided “substantial assistance” to the Russia investigation and at least two other investigations.
Mr. Mueller cited Flynn’s cooperation in recommending that he serve no prison time for his guilty plea. Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday amid claims from his lawyers that he was duped by FBI agents into lying, a claim that Mueller’s team has disputed
At one point, Mr. Alptekin emailed Mr. Kian and Flynn saying that he had just finished meeting with Turkish ministers and he had “a green light to discuss confidentiality, budget and scope of the contract” for the campaign, according to the indictment.
The indictment said Mr. Kian and Mr. Alptekin failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
On Monday, Mr. Kian was released Monday without bond after an appearance in court. Mr. Kian’s attorney, Robert Trout, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Alptekin has denied the claims on his Twitter page. Mr. Alptekin, who has evaded authorities, also faces three counts of lying to federal agents.