Ex-Flynn business partner’s illegal lobbying for Turkey case goes to jury

The case of a business partner of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who is on trial for illegally lobbying for Turkey without telling the federal government, went to the jury on Monday, Courthouse News website reported.

Iranian-American businessman Bijan Rafiekian is on trial for illegally lobbying for Turkey. He is charged with conspiring to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, the leader of a religious group the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016. Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999.

Prosecutors allege Rafekian, also known as Kian, and Flynn’s company, Flynn Intelligence Group, contracted a Turkish businessman with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ekim Alptekin, to run a smear campaign against Gülen.

Ankara has repeatedly requested the extradition of Gülen, however the U.S. Justice Department has declined, in one of the many issues of contention between Turkey and the United States.

Prosecutors during the closing statements said Rafiekian tried to carefully mask who was behind a project he and Flynn worked on aiming to discredit Gülen, Courthouse news said.

“They tried to subvert the American process so Erdoğan could get his hands on Gulen,” the article quoted U.S. Attorney James Gillis as telling the jury. 

Rafekian maintains the project was for a business owned by Alptekin and was aimed towards making Turkey seem more favorable to international business and investment.

However, the project always focused on Gülen from the beginning had the interest and approval of people at the highest levels in Ankara, according to Gillis.

 Gillis also told the jury Rafiekian lied on a form he eventually filed with the U.S. government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA by downplaying the involvement of Ankara in the project and concealing the origins of an op-ed penned by Flynn, which Kian wrote and shared with Alptekin before it published.

One key point of contention in the illegal lobbying case involves an op-ed published under Flynn’s name on the website of The Hill newspaper on on  Nov. 8 2016, the day of U.S. presidential elections. Prosecutors claim the op-ed was part of the Flynn Intel Group’s work for Alptekin and thus Turkey. Rafiekian’s lawyers deny the claim.

“Essentially what the government is asking you to do is convict a man because the form he filled out was not the one the government likes,” Rafiekian’s attorney Mark MacDougall said.

According to MacDougall, Rafiekian was at most guilty of following the advice of high-powered lawyers whose counsel he sought while trying to figure out if he had to register as a foreign agent.

Jury deliberations in the case are expected to take place on Tuesday morning.