A U.S Appeals Court reinstated Turkey-hired lobbyist statements that led the jury to find him guilty of acting as an agent of Turkey, Law&Crime Network, a platform for reporting legal issues, said on Thursday.
In July 2019, a jury found Turkey-hired lobbyist Bijan Rafiekian (Kian) was involved in a conspiracy that concerned former security advisor of the Trump administration Michael Flynn and Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin. However, the judge presiding over the case vacated the evidence that proved Rafiekian to be an agent of Turkey.
The lobbyists dubbed their smear campaign “Project Truth,” and Flynn published an anti-Gülen op-ed describing him as a “radical cleric” without disclosing his economic ties to the Turkish government. Flynn would later admit that he lied on the Foreign Agent Registration Act, Law&Crime Network said.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals noted that direct evidence of the scheme was slim. Flynn backed away from his guilty plea, yet the government struck him from the anticipated witness list before Rafiekian’s trial, Law&Crime Network said.
A three-judge panel appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents found unanimously that such evidence in the case can be enough for the statute criminalizing being an undisclosed agent of a foreign government.
The panel wrote, according to Politico,
“We are convinced that the jury heard sufficient evidence that Rafiekian acted as ‘an agent of a foreign government… Based on the evidence presented, a rational juror could conclude…that the Turkish government was, in fact, behind the project; that, through Alptekin, Turkey communicated both general and specific instructions; and that Rafiekian hewed to those directions over the life of the engagement—all without notifying the Attorney General.”
Alptekin remained in Turkey, far away from the long arm of U.S. law enforcement, leaving Rafiekian safe from testimony from his closest accused confederates, Law&Crime added.
The 4th Circuit opinion essentially concluded that the project pursued through the Flynn Intel Group consulting firm was an illegal, unregistered lobbying effort for the Turkish government, Politico wrote.
Anti-Erdoğan hawk, Flynn initially praised the coup attempt in 2016 against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan while the July 15 attempt was unfolding, Law&Crime Network said adding “but he quickly changed his tune once approached by Rafiekian and Alptekin”.
According to Politico, a Washington D.C. news outlet reporting on the same case, Rafiekian could ask the full bench of the appeals court to take up the case or seek review at the Supreme Court. Without further intervention, the case will return to lower court for Rafiekian to be sentenced. He faces a maximum possible sentence of 15 years in prison, but sentences in similar cases are typically far short of the maximum.
Kian was indicted and convicted by jury on two charges: Conspiracy to act as an agent of a Foreign government and making false statements about an application under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government.
Alptekin was charged with same charges, but also faced four counts of making a false statement to a federal agent.
When the judge thrown out the guilty verdict of the jury, Alptekin argued that the decision is a sign of his innocence as well. However, a former diplomat and contributor to Ahval, Edward Stafford commented on the case recently, and said:
Bijan Kian’s defence works against [Alptekin]. The U.S. case against Alptekin is that he contracted for services with Flynn’s firm on behalf of Turkey, that he was acting as an agent of Turkey, and that he willfully hid this fact from the U.S. authorities and made false statements about it to U.S. federal agents. Thus, a not-guilty verdict for Kian on the first two charges does not help Alptekin.