Flynn Associate Kian Pleads Not Guilty to Lobbying Charges

(Bloomberg) -- A former business associate of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Donald Trump, pleaded not guilty to charges that he lobbied illegally on behalf of Turkey.

Bijan Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, entered his plea Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga also set a Feb. 11 trial date. Kian and a Turkish businessman were indicted this month, accused of helping President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government secretly influence public opinion and politicians during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Flynn Associate Kian Pleads Not Guilty to Lobbying Charges

Kian, 66, and businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin, 41, are accused of joining Flynn in a campaign to discredit Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan blamed for a failed coup attempt in 2016. The U.S. has rejected Turkey’s entreaties to extradite Gulen back to his native country, leading to what U.S. prosecutors called a plot that involved the Flynn Intel Group, a company founded by Flynn and Kian.

Kian, who worked as an intelligence adviser to the incoming Trump administration, appeared before the judge less than two hours before Flynn was scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Washington for lying to U.S. investigators.

The judge in Washington postponed Flynn’s sentencing until after he’s finished his cooperation with prosecutors. At that hearing, Flynn’s lawyer said it’s “likely” that his client would be called to testify in the Kian and Alptekin case.

The Justice Department has stepped up prosecutions of people failing to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Flynn was a key adviser to Trump’s campaign and served briefly in his administration. Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia and cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Prosecutors, in an indictment filed under seal on Dec. 12, said Flynn and Kian took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Turkish government that was funneled through a Dutch company owned by Alptekin. The influence campaign, which included lobbying a member of Congress and a Congressional staffer, culminated in the publication in The Hill newspaper of a Flynn op-ed that sharply criticized Gulen.

While Turkey directed the work through Alptekin, the men sought to hide its involvement, prosecutors said in the indictment, which was unsealed Dec. 17. Turkish cabinet-level officials approved the $600,000 budget for the project, and Alptekin gave them regular updates on the progress of the work, the U.S. said.

Alptekin paid Flynn’s firm in installments through wire transfers from a Turkish bank account, and Flynn’s firm kicked back a portion to Alptekin, according to prosecutors.

Kian, who is charged with conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of Turkey, faces as many as 15 years in prison. He was released without having to post bail. His attorney, Robert Trout, said Monday that he’s selling his home in northern California and moving to the Washington area.

Neither Flynn Intel nor Flynn are identified by name in the Virginia filings, but are referred to as Company A and Person A.

But Flynn’s role in the Turkish lobbying matter was raised during his sentencing hearing in Washington, when prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan that Flynn provided substantial assistance in that matter. Sullivan asked whether Flynn could have been indicted there, and the prosecutor said yes, adding that conspiracy charges there could have exposed him to a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Alptekin, a Turkish-Dutch citizen living in Istanbul, is also accused of lying to FBI agents about the case on May 24, 2017.

“Ekim denies, as he has always done, that the government of Turkey was a participant in his project with the Flynn Intel Group,’’ said Molly Toomey, a spokeswoman.

At the brief hearing on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis said prosecutors believe Alptekin is living in Turkey and they don’t expect he’ll come to the U.S. Gillis said he expects the trial will involve classified information handled under the Classified Information Procedures Act. The case is being handled by federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia and the Justice Department’s national security division.

Trout told the judge that Kian will have a new lawyer within a week. After the hearing, Trout declined to comment.

The case is U.S. v. Rafiekian, 18-cr-457, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

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