US federal prosecutors have charged associates of former national security advisor Michael Flynn for illegally lobbying for the extradition of a Turkish national who has been a frequent critic of the Turkish government.
Bijan Rafiekian, a former business partner of Michael Flynn, was charged with two counts including conspiracy to act as an agent for a foreign government. Kamil Ekim Alptekin has also been charged.
Mr Rafiekian was arrested and appeared in court on Monday to face charges related to allegedly lobbying illegally to have a Turkish exile returned from the United States.
Court documents say that Mr Rafjekian and Mr Alptekin "conspired covertly and unlawfully to influence U.S. politicians and public opinion concerning a Turkish citizen living in the United States whose extradition was then being sought by the Government of Turkey".
The indictment against Mr Rafiekian states that he had served as vice chairman of Flynn's business group, the Flynn Intel Group, where he supervised much of the group's foreign political work for the Turkish interests. The document says Flynn and the two defendants worked in 2016 to have Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited.
"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,” the filing, which says that Mr Rafjekian and Mr Alptekin sought to hide the fact that Turkish sources paid the Flynn Intel Group by naming Mr Alptekin as a client, states. “Although the Government of Turkey directed the work through Alptekin, the defendants sought to conceal Turkey’s involvement in the efforts to discredit the Turkish citizen.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Mr Gulen of directing a failed coup in the country.
Mr Rafikian, who also goes by the name Bijan Kian, also worked on the Trump transition team, where he would have had influence on Trump administration intelligence agency choices. In that role, he would have also had access to internal discussions regarding American national security policies.
Flynn was forced out of his post as national security advisor in the White House just weeks into Donald Trump's presidency after it was determined that he had lied to federal investigators, Vice President Mike Pence, and other White House officials about contacts he had with Russian officials during the presidential transition period. Flynn pleaded guilty to a felony charge for those lies last December, but has more recently argued that he had been tricked by the FBI into lying about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, who was the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any potential cooperation between the Trump campaign and that country, has rejected the argument that Flynn was tricked into the myriad of lies he has been accused of.
In a memo sent ahead of his upcoming sentencing, Flynn's lawyers have argued that their client should be given a lenient sentence because FBI agents did not inform him ahead of time that lying to investigators is illegal — and that he did not know that he was being formally investigated.
Prosecutors dismissed the idea that Flynn would not have known the stakes.
“A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents", federal prosecutors wrote. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth".
Mr Mueller's prosecutors had already asked that Flynn receive a lenient sentence, however, and asked in a filing that he receive as little as no time in prison. In making that argument, prosecutors cited Flynn's cooperation with investigators as well as his lengthy military service.
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