An ex-business partner of former US national security adviser Michael Flynn and a businessman with ties to Turkish AKP government officials were charged with undisclosed lobbying aimed at ensuring the extradition of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.
An indictment unsealed Monday against Flynn's former business partner alleges that Bijan Rafiekian, aka Bijan Kian, 66, and Turkish businessman, Ekim Alptekin made false statements about the project in filings to the Department of Justice unit that governs a law requiring that lobbying on behalf of foreign interests be disclosed.
"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," attorneys for the Eastern District of Virginia said in the indictment.
The Islamic preacher, 77, has been living in a gated compound in eastern Pennsylvania after leaving Turkey in 1999. Ankara has long demanded that Washington extradite Gülen. He had been a close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP government. Gülen's CIA-linked network helping Erdoğan to redesign and install his Islamic-rooted AKP party in power in 2002. But his alliance with the AKP has faltered in recent years. On 15 July 2016, the network of Gülen, which is also an Islamic cult, attempted to topple down Erdoğan by a military coup but it failed.
According to the indictment, Rafiekian and Alptekin made arrangements for the Flynn Intel Group to be indirectly paid $600,000 by the Turkish government to help turn US public and political sentiment against exiled Gülen.
The plan was developed at the height of the 2016 election campaign when Flynn was advising then-candidate Trump on foreign and security policy. The deal with Flynn was approved at top levels of the Turkish government, the indictment said, with Alptekin keeping senior ministers apprised of its progress.
The probe into the Turkish lobbying effort had been under the purview of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into "Russia's meddling" in the 2016 U.S. election before being handed back to federal prosecutors in Virginia earlier this year.
Bijan Rafiekian was arrested and made an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He is indicted on charges including failing to register as a foreign agent. Alptekin, a dual Turkish-Dutch citizen living in Istanbul whose full name is Ekim Alpetekin, remains at large. Alptekin is charged with failing to register as a foreign agent and also making false statements. According to the indictment, Alptekin worked at the direction of the Turkish government, but the defendants worked to conceal that fact.
But on Sunday, Çavuşoğlu said Trump recently told Erdoğan that the White House is working on extraditing Gülen.