ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Not far from the courthouse where a federal judge excoriated former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for having “sold out his country,” a onetime business partner of Flynn pleaded not guilty Tuesday to conspiring against the United States as an illegal agent of Turkey.
Wearing a black suit and thick, black-rimmed glasses, 66-year-old Bijan Kian opted to waive a reading of the indictment from U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga, who presided over the hearing in the Alexandria, Virginia, courthouse.
“Not guilty,” Kian told the judge quietly, standing beside his defense attorney, Roger Trout.
According to the indictment – which was unsealed Monday but dated Dec. 12 – Kian and fellow Flynn associate Ekim Alptekin concealed evidence from U.S. authorities that Turkey and other high-level Turkish officials covertly directed their lobbying efforts in the United States.
Their goal was to change the perception of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen so that Turkish President Recep Erodgan could secure Gulen’s extradition to face charges that he orchestrated an attempted 2016 coup in Turkey.
While Kian worked as vice chairman to the Flynn Intel Group consultancy, Alptekin operated the shell company Inovo BV, whose trade group is indirectly controlled by the Turkish government. The indictment says Inovo paid Flynn Intel $600,000, and that 41-year-old Alptekin is still at large in Istanbul.
Prosecutors allege Kian and Alptekin provided regular updates about the status of their progress to Turkey, and that Flynn Intel received $530,000 for its work smearing Gulen.
A U.S. green card holder who has lived in Pennsylvania since 1999, Gulen denies any involvement in the alleged Erdogan coup.
Judge Trenga scheduled Kian’s trial date this morning for Feb. 11 at 9 a.m., telling the government he expects at least two status conferences to be held ahead of trial.
While Flynn was prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating the Trump campaign’s possible coordination with Russia as it worked to manipulate the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the charges against Kian and Alptekin were filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis of the Eastern District of Virginia and Evan Turgeon, a trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division.
Gillis told Judge Trenga that classified documents will almost certainly be entered into the record.
A status hearing where attorneys can discuss the nature of those documents and more ahead of trial is scheduled for Jan. 3.
Judge Trenga also asked prosecutors Tuesday about their efforts to locate Alptekin.
“I don’t anticipate he’ll join us?” Judge Trenga said.
“No, your honor,” Gillis said.
Flynn is said to have co-founded his consultancy with Kian after his 2014 retirement from the U.S. Army. Once President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Kian was tapped to serve as an aide for on the president’s national security transition team, giving him an insider perspective to the incoming administration’s consideration of intelligence agency officials as well as internal discussions on national security policy.
Born in Iran, Kian was largely educated abroad. He studied engineering in Iran until 1979 when he moved to the United Kingdom to complete his master’s program at the University of Brighton.
In 2008, he studied national security at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and later political philosophy at the University of Oxford in 2011. A certification from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in FINTECH, or the study of technology and banking services, rounded out his credentials in 2016.
In 2006, he sat on the board of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, nominated to the position by then President George W. Bush. Kian remained a fixture there until 2011.
He was also a member of the White House Business Council during the same time and later became California’s state’s economic development commissioner, commissioner of housing finance and the state’s director of foreign investment.