Appeals Court reinstates guilty verdict for Michael Flynn’s business partner in Turkish lobbying case
Chuck Ross, DCNF
- A former business partner of Michael Flynn was dealt a major legal blow on Thursday after a federal appeals court reinstated his conviction on charges that he lobbied illegally for the Turkish government.
- The three-judge panel said that Bijan Rafiekian operated as an agent of Turkey in 2016, when he was an executive at Flynn’s intelligence firm.
- A federal judge had tossed out a conviction against Rafiekian in September 2019, claiming that the government’s evidence was “insufficient.”
- The appeals court reversed that decision, saying that jurors “heard sufficient evidence” that Rafiekian worked for Turkey.
A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated a guilty verdict against Bijan Rafiekian, a former business partner of Michael Flynn’s who was convicted in 2019 on charges that he lobbied secretly for the Turkish government.
A three-judge panel unanimously voted to override a decision by District Court Judge Anthony Trenga to toss out charges against Rafiekian following his July 23, 2019 conviction on charges that he worked as an unregistered foreign agent of Turkey while he served as an executive for Flynn Intel Group, an intelligence consulting firm founded by Flynn.
Rafiekian, who was chairman of the Export-Import Bank during the George W. Bush administration, was indicted in 2018 alongside Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.
Trenga tossed out charges against Rafiekian on Sept. 24, 2019, saying that the government’s evidence was “insufficient as a matter of law.”
The appellate court judges said Thursday that the jury was provided with enough evidence to find that Rafiekian acted as an agent of Turkey.
“We are convinced that the jury heard sufficient evidence that Rafiekian acted as ‘an agent of a foreign government,’” James Wynn, a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote in the opinion.
Wynn said that a “rational juror could conclude” that the Turkish government “was, in fact, behind the project.”
He said that the Turkish government communicated “general and specific instructions” to Flynn Intel Group through Alptekin.
“Rafiekian hewed to those directions over the life of the engagement — all without notifying the Attorney General,” Wynn wrote.
The Daily Caller first reported details of the Flynn Intel Group lobbying arrangement on Nov. 11, 2016.
Three days earlier, Flynn had published an op-ed in The Hill called on the U.S. government to extradite Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric who is a political foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s.
Lobbying records filed with Congress showed that Flynn Intel Group had signed a lobbying agreement in August 2016 with a Dutch shell company called Inovo B.V.
Inovo was registered to Alptekin, who served at the time as chairman of the Turkish-U.S. Business Council, a trade group controlled by the Turkish government.
Flynn Intel Group, Rafiekian and Flynn registered as foreign agents of Turkey on May 7, 2017.
In their disclosures, Flynn Intel Group revealed that the firm signed a $600,000 contract with Inovo to investigate Gulen and potentially gain his extradition from the U.S.
Flynn was not charged in the case. A plea deal he struck with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team protected him from prosecution over his lobbying activities for Turkey.
Rafiekian had denied that the Turkish government directed any of his work at Flynn Intel Group or for Alptekin, but prosecutors presented emails at Rafiekian’s trial that showed that two Turkish government officials directed the Flynn Intel investigation.
Alptekin arranged a meeting in New York City in September 2017 for Flynn, Rafiekian and two top Turkish government ministers.
A retired FBI official who worked for Flynn Intel Group on the Gulen project testified that Rafiekian asked him if he could still access government files on Gulen. Brian McAuley, the retired official, said that Rafiekian also asked him if he could surveil Gulen’s supporters in the U.S.
According to Politico, Rafiekian can request that the full appeals court review Thursday’s decision. He can also appeal to the Supreme Court. Otherwise, the case will go back to Trenga for sentencing. Rafiekian faces up to 15 years in prison.