Judge Greases Trial Track for Case of Accused Turkish Agent

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Two months after federal prosecutors went after the former business partner of disgraced national security adviser Michael Flynn, a federal judge said the clock is running out to identify suspected co-conspirators.

Bijan Rafiekian, a onetime business partner to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, leaves the FBI Field Office on Dec. 17, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The hearing this morning follows weeks of discovery production by prosecutors who have accused Bijan Kian, 66, of California, of acting as an unregistered agent of the Turkish government.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga had initially expected to start Kian’s trial on Feb. 11, but voluminous discovery on the part of the prosecution has delayed proceedings until now.

Assuring the court that the prosecution is on track to wrap up discovery, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gibbs said he is eyeing a few interview summaries compiled by the FBI as well as a video that supposedly proves Kian’s foreign lobbying violations. 

Gibbs offered little details on the video, but it is likely the same unfinished documentary that The Wall Street Journal described in a December article.

The never-distributed film is believed to have been commissioned by the Flynn Intel Group, where Kian served as vice-chairman.

In their December indictment, prosecutors accused Kian of secretly lobbying in the United States to change the perception of Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen so that Turkish President Recep Erodgan could secure Gulen’s extradition on charges that he orchestrated an attempted 2016 coup in Turkey.

Gulen is a longtime target of the Turkish government, and prosecutors claim that Kian and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin hid evidence from U.S. authorities showing how their lobbying efforts unfolded in the U.S.

Of the $600,000 that Flynn’s company allegedly received nearly for the video – and for an editorial Flynn wrote slamming Gulen – prosecutors say $80,000 was paid directly to Alptekin through the shell company Inovo BV, whose trade group is indirectly controlled by the Turkish government. 

Historically, Alptekin has claimed the funds were sent to him for work that was never finished but prosecutors claim the money was a part of a plan to offer Alptekin a kickback for assistance with the project.

“We expect being able to get the video by next month,” Gibbs said.

Defense attorney Mark MacDougall of Akin Gump asked Trenga Wednesday to delay the start of Kian’s trial on the basis of the “very rare” foreign lobbying statute that his client is accused of violating.

“There’s not a long history of appellant decisions, and this case is very different,” MacDougall said. “We need the court’s assistance.”

Part of that assistance would include prosecutors formally naming any unindicted co-conspirators they plan to call for trial.

“To identify co-conspirators as the trial advances [and not before it begins] denies us the chance to test the validity [of that evidence]” MacDougall said.

Prosecutors had no objection to naming them. 

“If we have actually have them,” Gibbs said. “If the court wants information on co-conspirators or other statements we intend to offer, we request that it is not done publicly,” the said.

Kian’s trial is expected to last just one week, Gibbs added.

Judge Trenga found no reason to delay Kian’s trial beyond July and ordered attorneys to submit any motions parsing additional discovery to be entered no later than April 15. 

A hearing to review the motions was also scheduled for May 10.

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