An Orange County man who is a business associate of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn was convicted Tuesday by a federal jury of secretly lobbying for Turkey.
The jury in Alexandria, Virginia, deliberated three hours before finding Bijan Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, 67, guilty of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government, conspiring to make false statements and willful omissions in a Foreign Agents Registration Act filing, and acting as an agent of a foreign government.
Rafiekian, of San Juan Capistrano, faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, with sentencing set for Oct. 18.
But U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga scheduled a Sept. 5 hearing, at which he could toss out the verdict, according to the New York Times, which reported that Trenga had previously described the evidence against Rafiekian as speculative and circumstantial and considered dismissing the case before allowing it to go before a jury.
John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, issued a statement Tuesday saying the “verdict should stand as a deterrent to any malign foreign influence that undermines the integrity of our political processes.”
“Through misrepresentations in his FARA filing, Mr. Rafiekian attempted to deceive the public and influence key leaders on behalf of Turkey. The Department of Justice treats these crimes with the gravity that they deserve,” Demers said.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said Rafiekian “was held accountable for his actions and found guilty by a jury of his peers.”
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, Rafiekian, along with his co-conspirator, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, a 42-year-old Turkish national with close ties to the highest levels of the government of Turkey, were involved in a conspiracy to covertly influence U.S. politicians and public opinion against Turkish national Fethullah Gulen, who is living in the United States.
The Turkish government had filed two extradition requests for Gulen, a rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and has been trying to convince the Department of Justice to extradite Gulen back to Turkey since 2015, according to the DOJ.
Prosecutors said the conspiracy included using the Flynn Intel Group, a company founded by Flynn and Rafiekian, to delegitimize Gulen in the eyes of the American public and the country’s politicians, with the goal of obtaining his extradition, which was meeting resistance at the DOJ.
“At the same time, the conspirators sought to conceal that the government of Turkey was directing the work. However, not only was Rafiekian told by Alptekin that Turkish cabinet-level officials had approved the budget for the project, but Alptekin also told Rafiekian that he provided the Turkish officials updates on the work,” according to a DOJ statement. “Rafiekian understood that Alptekin was relaying the Turkish officials’ directions on the work to Rafiekian, Flynn and others at FIG.”
According to court documents, the scheme included using Inovo, a Dutch shell company owned by Alptekin, to act as FIG’s “client.” FIG was paid $600,000 in three installments from an account in Turkey in Alptekin’s name. After Alptekin made the payments to FIG, FIG kicked back 20% of the payments to Alptekin’s company in the Netherlands, with two such kickbacks being made, according to the U.S. government.
Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who was an adviser to President Donald Trump’s election campaign and, briefly, his first national security adviser, pleaded guilty in a separate case to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador and lying on foreign lobbying disclosure forms related to his own work for Turkey.
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