Will Turkish businessman Alptekin escape U.S. justice?

Ekim Alptekin, the fugitive Turkish businessman embroiled in the trials of President Donald Trump’s former security adviser for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, may hope that he is close to the end of his legal travails after recent developments in his case.

Given the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)’s recent decision to withdraw charges against Trump’s former adviser Michael Flynn and the September 2019 decision of the judge in the case against his colleague, Bijan Kian, to throw out the July 2019 Jury conviction, Alptekin has shown hope that the charges pending against him may soon be dropped. This would allow him to travel freely outside of Turkey without fear of extradition to face the charges still pending against him.

He touched on this in a May 7 video interview with Middle East analyst Michael Doran, railing against the U.S. justice system while seeking to drape himself under the banner of justice for all and link his case to those of Flynn and Kian.

Clearly, he wishes to establish parity between the charges against Kian and against himself after the September 2019 decision. Also, following Doran’s lead, he insinuated that he was only charged as part of former DOJ Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Trump, which led to the charges against Flynn. His obvious goal is to confuse the cases so that his defence can benefit from the success Flynn and Kian’s defence attorneys have had thus far. Will he succeed?

To review, Flynn pled guilty to charges of lying to federal agents during their investigation into his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in December 2016, when he been named as Trump’s National Security Adviser. He later recanted that guilty plea. On May 7, the DOJ moved to have the charges dismissed, citing egregious violations of investigatory procedures by the FBI. As of this writing, the judge in Flynn’s case has not agreed to dismiss the charges, which has raised questions about his impartiality in the case (but that is another story).

Before accepting the job as Trump’s security adviser, Flynn’s lobbying firm, which Kian was a partner in, had been hired by Alptekin to advocate on the Turkish government’s behalf, specifically on the issue of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist preacher whose movement Turkey blames for a coup attempt in 2016. The Turkish government has sought Gülen’s extradition from his home in Pennsylvania for years.

Legal commentators disagree on whether the Flynn case is effectively over, but the Doran interview reveals that Alptekin sees the DOJ motion for dismissal as evidence that the charges against him have no validity and he too should be freed from prosecution. The charges against Flynn were being used by the Mueller investigation to compel his cooperation with their investigation. But the charges against Alptekin were independent of that probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He should not look for help in the DOJ’s action regarding Flynn.

The DOJ brought charges against both Kian and Alptekin in the same indictment - but not the same charges. Kian was indicted on two charges: Conspiracy to act as an agent of a Foreign government and making false statements about an application under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government. Alptekin was charged likewise, but also faced four counts of making a false statement to a federal agent.

Part of the defence for Kian was that he was unaware of the relationship between the government of Turkey and Alptekin – a relationship Alptekin, but not Flynn, continues to deny. Kian’s defence argued, unsuccessfully with the jury but successfully with the Judge in the case, that Kian and Flynn had entered a contract in good faith with Alptekin as a private person. The prosecution argued that Kian had to have known that Alptekin was acting on behalf of the Turkish government.

 During the trial, the judge opined that the prosecution case was very weak, and that it had presented at best flimsy evidence that Kian knew the funding for the contract came from the Turkish government when he signed a contract with Alptekin. Though the jury agreed with the prosecution, the judge set aside that verdict and reiterated in his opinion that the prosecution had never presented evidence that Kian knew the ultimate source of funding for the contract with the Flynn Intelligence Group.

For Alptekin, the charges remain, and Kian’s defence works against him. The U.S. case against Alptekin is that he contracted for services with Flynn’s firm on behalf of Turkey, that he was acting as an agent of Turkey, and that he willfully hid this fact from the U.S. authorities and made false statements about it to U.S. federal agents. Thus, a not-guilty verdict for Kian on the first two charges does not help Alptekin.

Alptekin makes clear in his interview with Doran that he fled the United States due to his lack of confidence in the U.S. Justice system and to avoid being separated from his three children.

Such arguments will carry little weight with federal prosecutors and judges who expect that those charged will make pleas for bail before a judge, and not flee the country. Part of the argument, that Alptekin could not get a fair hearing in the U.S. Justice system, is undermined by Kian’s acquittal by the judge as well as by the DOJ’s motion to dismiss charges against Flynn.

For the reasons outlined above, Alptekin should not be confident that the threat of extradition to the United States will soon be lifted. Nor should he count on the United States cancelling the charges against him in exchange for the Turkish government cancelling its still pending request for the extradition of Gülen. Can one imagine that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would relent on his efforts to have Gülen face Turkish justice?  And, even if he were induced to offer a swap of extradition request cancellations, the DOJ is not likely to go along with such a scheme.

Unfortunately for Alptekin, his legal fate in the United States is in the hands of a justice system that is not under the control of the nation’s chief executive, but is compelled to follow the rule of law. Just as Bijan Kian and Michael Flynn are not quite finished with their interactions with the U.S. Justice system brought about by their dealings with him, Alptekin likely faces continued constraints on his movements until the U.S. justice system decides to pursue him no more, and that could be a very long time.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.