WASHINGTON – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit today upheld an Eastern District of Virginia jury verdict convicting a man of acting and conspiring to act as an agent of the Turkish government within the United States without disclosing that relationship to the U.S. government. The Fourth Circuit also vacated an order granting a new trial and remanded the case for further proceedings before the district court.
According to court records, Bijan Rafiekian, 69, of San Juan Capistrano, California, along with his alleged co-conspirator, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, 43, of Istanbul, a Turkish national with close ties to the highest levels of the Government of Turkey, were involved in a conspiracy to act covertly within the U.S. on instructions from the Turkish government. The plot included using the services of the Flynn Intel Group (FIG), a company founded by Rafiekian and retired General Michael T. Flynn, to publicly and privately influence U.S. politicians and public opinion against a Turkish national, Fethullah Gulen, who is an imam, writer and political figure living in the U.S. Since 2015, the Government of Turkey has filed multiple extradition requests for Gulen in an effort to convince the U.S. government to extradite Gulen to Turkey.
Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's National Security Division John C. Demers and Acting U.S. Attorney Raj Parekh for the Eastern District of Virginia issued the following statement with respect to the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in United States v. Rafiekian:
“A federal jury found Rafiekian guilty of acting as an undisclosed agent of Turkey and conspiring to do so. We are pleased the Fourth Circuit concluded that the jury’s verdict was amply supported by the evidence. The Court’s careful legal analysis confirmed the broad scope and importance of transparency requirements for individuals acting within the United States at the direction of foreign governments. This case is a reminder to those who act covertly within our country on behalf of a foreign power that they face criminal consequences for their conduct. The Department will continue to combat covert foreign influence operations using the Foreign Agents Registration Act and all the tools at its disposal.”
According to court documents, the purpose of the conspiracy was to use FIG to delegitimize Gulen in the eyes of the American public and U.S. politicians, with the goal of obtaining his extradition, which was meeting resistance at the U.S. Department of Justice. At the same time, the conspirators sought to conceal that the Government of Turkey was directing the work. However, not only was Rafiekian told by Alptekin that Turkish cabinet-level officials had approved the budget for the project, but Alptekin also told Rafiekian and Flynn during the project that he was providing the Turkish officials updates on the work. Rafiekian understood that Alptekin was relaying the Turkish officials’ directions on the work to Rafiekian, Flynn, and others at FIG. During a September 2016 meeting in New York City organized by Alptekin, Rafiekian personally met with Turkish officials and heard them express their desire for Gulen’s extradition, an objective he then pursued using FIG’s personnel and connections.
According to court records and evidence presented at trial, the scheme included using Alptekin’s Dutch shell company to act as FIG’s “client.” FIG was paid $600,000 in three installments from an account in Turkey in Alptekin’s name. After Alptekin made the payments to FIG, FIG kicked back 20% of the payments to Alptekin’s shell company.
Rafiekian was convicted on charges of acting as an undisclosed foreign agent and of criminal conspiracy to act as an undisclosed foreign agent and to make a materially false Foreign Agents Registration Act filing. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Aidan Taft Grano argued the case on appeal. Assistant U.S. Attorneys James P. Gillis and John T. Gibbs of the Eastern District of Virginia and Trial Attorney Evan N. Turgeon of the National Security Division's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section prosecuted the case at trial.