ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Onetime associates of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn were charged Monday with acting as illegal agents of the Turkish government.
Unsealed this morning in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, the 21-page indictment alleges that Flynn’s former business partner Bijan Kian of California and Turkish national Ekim 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.”
Though not named in court papers, the Turkish citizen described by prosecutors is Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Turkish President Recep Erdogan has claimed Gulen was responsible for an attempted coup against him in 2016, allegations he has denied.
Monday’s indictment was filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Gillis in the Eastern District of Virginia and Evan Turgeon, a trial attorney with the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section of the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.
According to the indictment, efforts to delegitimize Gulen began in earnest in July 2016 when the U.S. Department of Justice formally denied the Turkish government’s request to have the cleric extradited.
At the time, Flynn was working directly with Trump, and Kian, a former director for the Export-Import Bank, served as vice chairman to his consultancy, Flynn Intel Group.
On July 30, according to the indictment, Kian sent an email to Alptekin, with Flynn copied, where he touted a “Truth Campaign” that he had formed with Flynn with the goal of likening Gulen to Iran’s Ayatollah Kohmeini.
Flynn would later draw the same Gulen-Khomeini comparison in an op-ed piece published in The Hill on Nov. 8, 2016 — timed to coincide with Election Day.
Four days before the op-ed ran, Kian wrote to Alptekin: “The arrow has left the bow!”
The indictment describes a $600,000 contract that Flynn Intel struck in August 2016 with Alptekin’s shell company, Inovo BV, whose trade group is indirectly controlled by the Turkish government.
The contract specified “making criminal referrals” against Gulen, according to the indictment, which also notes that the Turkish government instructed Kian to “conceal” his lobbying efforts.
Flynn, who was prosecuted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to the FBI.
Kian, 66, of San Juan Capistrano, was released on bail after his appearance in court this morning. The conspiracy charge is punishable by five years in prison; a conviction for acting as an agent of a foreign government meanwhile would carry a 10-year term.
A warrant is still out for the arrest of Alptekin, 41, described as a resident of Istanbul. Alptekin faces four extra counts involving lying to the FBI.