(Bloomberg) -- Michael Flynn's cooperation with Special Counsel Robert Mueller led prosecutors to charge two Flynn associates over their work on behalf of Turkey, in an indictment unsealed the day before Donald Trump's former national security adviser is to be sentenced.
Bijan Rafiekian, also known as "Bijan Kian," and Kamil Ekim Alptekin, were accused of helping the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan retaliate against a political opponent, and then concealing the government's involvement. While many of the activities described in the indictment had been previously reported, prosecutors revealed details about the role of the Erdogan administration and the depth of Flynn's illicit activities.
Flynn has cooperated with Mueller and other prosecutors since his guilty plea last year on charges that he lied to investigators. He has provided so much useful information that he should avoid prison, Mueller's team said last week. In the latest filing, by the Justice Department's national security division, Flynn is identified only as Person A and isn't charged.
The indictment is the latest by the Justice Department as it cracks down on Americans who perform unregistered work for foreign governments. It also highlights covert efforts by Trump's inner circle to strike backroom deals and profit from access to powerful people.
Others may follow. Mueller has said that Flynn's 19 debriefings with prosecutors provided information beyond the "core" work investigating connections between Russian and the Trump campaign and made reference to two inquiries redacted in public filings.
Flynn and Kian became partners in 2014 in a U.S.-based business that pursued security consulting and energy contracts around the world. The newly unsealed indictment doesn't name the company. But it matches the description of Flynn Intel Group, which Flynn and Kian founded after Flynn was fired as Defense Intelligence Agency director.
Earlier: Flynn's Side Deals, Links to Trump Aides Offer Clues for Mueller
In late summer 2016, while Flynn was working as the Trump campaign's top national security adviser, he and Kian contracted with Turkey to influence public opinion and U.S. government officials against Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan blamed for a failed coup attempt that year, according to prosecutors.
The 90-day effort was known as "The Truth Campaign" and involved a media blitz in the U.S. to discredit Gulen, as well as meetings with U.S. government officials who might help push for his extradition.
Turkey paid $600,000 to a front company called Innovo BV that was set up by Alptekin, according to the indictment. On Aug. 11, after meeting with two of Erdogan's government ministers, Kian renamed the plan "Operation Confidence" and began concealing the payments from Turkey, the indictment says.
The indictment also reveals an assortment of emails between Flynn, Kian and Turkish officials that compare Gulen to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, a Muslim cleric who led Iran's fundamentalist revolution in 1979 and toppled the pro-Western government. Prosecutors say the emails contained much of the language that appeared in an op-ed piece under Flynn's name, published Nov. 8, 2016, in the Hill newspaper, calling for the U.S. to aid Turkey by helping Erdogan take him into custody.
Kian, 66, and Alptekin, 41, were charged with acting in the U.S. as unregistered agents of Turkey and conspiracy in the indictment, which was dated Dec. 12. Alptekin was also charged with making false statements to the FBI. Kian was arrested and made an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, where he was released without having to post bail.
Kian faces as long as 15 years in prison and Alptekin as long as 35 years, although they'd likely serve far less time under sentencing guidelines. An arrest warrant has been issued for Alptekin, whose location wasn't immediately clear.
The indictment details how Kian, a native of Iran, and Flynn worked on a project -- secretly overseen by Turkish officials -- to discredit Gulen. During a meeting with Turkish officials, Kian and Flynn even discussed the possibility of kidnapping Gulen, the Wall Street Journal has reported. The indictment doesn't refer to a kidnapping discussion.
The administration may still be exploring ways to help Turkey's efforts on Gulen. On Monday, Turkey's foreign minister said in a speech to parliament that Trump had told Erdogan last month in Buenos Aires that he was working on Gulen's extradition.
Kian and Flynn were involved in other business ventures too, including GreenZone Systems, which developed a chip that could be plugged into any smartphone to mask the user's identity.
Kian emigrated to the U.S. in 1979 from the U.K. A Republican donor and vocal opponent of Iran's Islamic regime, he worked for banks and financial companies before being appointed by then-Governor Pete Wilson of California as an economic development commissioner in 1994. He later served as a director of the state's foreign investment office.
Since moving to Potomac, Maryland, a Washington suburb, Kian has acted aggressively to expand his social network, both to elevate his status and cultivate new business, according to several acquaintances. Immaculately dressed in black tie or tailored suits with perfectly folded pocket squares, Kian used "Honorable" before his name, a rarely used honorific for presidential appointees.
Flynn had a short stint as Trump's national security adviser. He was fired in February 2017, after just 24 days on the job, after it surfaced that he had been less than forthcoming with administration officials.
The op-ed that had appeared earlier under his name was largely orchestrated by Kian in consultation with members of the Erdogan government, prosecutors said.
"We all remember another quiet, bearded, elder cleric who sat under an apple tree in Nauphle-Le-Chateau in the suburbs of Paris in 1978," Flynn wrote, in words that prosecutors say echo the emails Kian and Turkish officials had honed. "He claimed to be a man of God who wanted to topple a dictator....Washington believed him."
(A previous version was corrected to reflect that only Alptekin was charged with making false statements to the FBI.)
(Adds potential prison terms if convicted.)
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