Flynn’s ex-business partner pleads not guilty in Turkey lobbying case

(Reuters) – Bijan Rafiekian, the ex-business partner of former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn, entered a plea of not guilty on Tuesday after being charged with unregistered lobbying for Turkey aimed at extraditing a Muslim cleric living in the U.S.

Rafiekian, who was indicted on Monday along with a Turkish-Dutch businessman who has not responded to his charges, entered the plea at an arraignment in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, court records show.

Rafiekian, a former director at the U.S. Export-Import Bank will go on trial starting on Feb. 11, according to the court records.

The indictment alleges that Rafiekian and the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, worked with Turkish government officials on a covert plan to discredit and extradite Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in exile in Pennsylvania.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has blamed Gulen for stoking a failed coup against him in 2016 – and the government sought to influence politicians to further their effort to have him returned to Turkey, the indictment alleges.

Rafiekian, a co-founder of the Flynn Intel Group, the consultancy at the heart of the case, was charged with lobbying for a foreign government without disclosing those efforts as required by law, and providing false statements to the Justice Department about that work.

The case against Rafiekian and Alptekin was built in part on information provided by Flynn, who is due to be sentenced on Tuesday for lying to the FBI related to his contacts with the then Russian ambassador to the United States.

Flynn has also admitted to lying about his role in the Turkish lobbying effort and has been cooperating with prosecutors on the probe.

At Tuesday’s arraignment, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga, who will oversee the case, asked the prosecutors about the whereabouts of Alptekin, who through a spokesman denied the charges against him on Monday.

Alptekin was believed to be in Turkey and was not expected to appear to face the charges, said Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia.

reporting by Nathan Layne in New York; Editing by Tom Brown and Alistair Bell

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