A U.S. federal judge on Tuesday overturned a jury verdict convicting a former business partner of ex-U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn of illegally lobbying for Turkey, Reuters reported.
Iranian-American businessman Bijan Rafiekian (also known as Kian) was convicted in July on lobbying charges related to work for the government by the Flynn Intel Group (FIG) in 2016.
Rafiekian, a co-founder of FIG, was charged with illegally lobbying for Turkey and aiding the country’s long-standing efforts for the extradition of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based leader of a religious group the Turkish government accuses of orchestrating a coup attempt in 2016.
However, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled that prosecutors had failed to show that Rafiekian ‘’knowingly acted as a secret agent for Turkey’s government under Ankara’s direction or control, and concealed his role from U.S. authorities.’’
Rafiekian’s lawyer, Mark MacDougall, said his client and his family were “relieved and looking forward to getting on with their lives.”
Trenga’s verdict follows a string of setbacks in the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to thwart unauthorised lobbying for foreign governments.
The FIG was hired by Turkish-Dutch businessman Ekim Alptekin in 2016 on a $600,000 contract to secretly investigate Gülen on behalf of the Turkish government. The lobbying work was done during U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign, when Flynn was working as a foreign policy adviser.
It remains unclear how Trenga’s decision would affect the criminal case against Flynn, Reuters said.
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his conversations in December 2016 with Russia’s ambassador to the United States about sanctions that former U.S. President Barack Obama had imposed on Moscow.