Bijan Rafiekian, an ex-business partner of former United States national security adviser Michael Flynn, has been found guilty by a U.S. jury over charges of secretly lobbying for Turkey, Reuters reported citing a Department of Justice spokesman on Tuesday.
The U.S. federal jury on Tuesday found Rafiekian, a co-founder of the consultancy firm Flynn Intel Group (FIG), guilty of conspiring to lobby on Turkey’s behalf to try to persuade Washington to extradite US-based Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen.
Gulen and members of his faith-based movement are viewed as terrorists by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party (AKP) government, who also blame the movement and its leader for masterminding a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
Any involvement in the failed coup and links to any terror activities have always been strongly denied by both Gulen and his followers.
Together with Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish-Dutch businessman, Rafiekian was indicted in December over charges of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government and making false statements to the Justice Department and acting as a foreign agent.
Following a week-long trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Rafiekian, also known as “Kian,” was found guilty on both of the charges, Justice Department spokesman Joshua Stueve said. His sentencing was reportedly set for October 18.
The Washington Post newspaper quoted Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Gillis as saying during his closing argument on Monday that: “They tried to subvert the American political process.”
Rafiekian and Flynn, he said, according to the newspaper, were “in bed with the Government of Turkey to influence the American people.”
Although Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was not charged as a co-conspirator with Rafiekian, the case might influence how U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan sentences Flynn later this year, Reuters said.
In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty of having lied to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators about his contacts with Russian officials.
He initially agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors and testify against Rafiekian with the aim of getting a lighter sentence.
However, after having a fall out with prosecutors in July, Flynn backed away from earlier admissions of making false statements to the US Justice Department in the paperwork that revealed his work as a Turkish government lobbyist.
He now argues that he counted on attorney’s advice when filing the lobbying paperwork with the Justice Department and that he did not file false information deliberately.
Ruling AKP denies claims that Turkey was engaged in a conspiracy to evade US regulations that require foreign government lobbyists to register with the Justice Department.
The Politico website reports that the 67-year Iranian-American Rafiekian could face up to 15 years behind bars for the two convictions.