A Turkish businessman charged with hiring Michael Flynn as part of a secret, illegal U.S. lobbying scheme on behalf of the Turkish government during and after the 2016 presidential campaign is still at large and wanted by the FBI, but has now dispatched lawyers to try to fight prosecutors in an ongoing criminal case in a Virginia federal court.
Ekim Alptekin was indicted last December on charges he conspired with former Flynn business partner Bijan Rafiekian in the lobbying campaign aimed at buttressing Turkey’s effort to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who won asylum from the U.S. and lives in Pennsylvania.
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Alptekin is believed to be in Turkey and had become something of an afterthought as prosecutors prepared for a scheduled July 15 trial for Rafiekian, also known as Kian.
However, on Thursday, attorneys for Alptekin abruptly surfaced in the case and asked U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Trenga to allow them to seek to block a prosecution effort to pierce the confidentiality of Alptekin’s communications with an earlier legal team at law firm Arent Fox.
The move by Alptekin’s current lawyers, Rodney Page and Jennifer Mammen of the law firm Bryan Cave, is an edgy one because courts are traditionally very reluctant to hear from lawyers from a defendant who is beyond the reach of U.S. law and, arguably, a fugitive.
“Although Mr. Alptekin was indicted in this case, he has not appeared before this Court and no proceedings have moved forward as to Mr. Alptekin in this matter,” Page and Mammen, noted gingerly in a motion asking permission to make a “special appearance” on Alptekin’s behalf solely to address the attorney-client privilege issue.
Prosecutors appear to want to use some information from Arent Fox against Kian, but Alptekin’s counsel implied that disclosure could impact Alptekin if he ever goes to trial.
“Once the privilege is waived and information is released, the Government’s knowledge of that information cannot be erased,” Page and Mammen wrote. The lawyers also asserted their client’s innocence, even though he has yet to appear to enter any plea. “Alptekin committed no crimes,” they wrote.
A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Alexandria who are handling the case did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but Alptekin’s filings indicate the government plans to resist his attorneys’ attempt to be recognized by the court.
The indictment returned last year accuses Alptekin of repeatedly lying to the FBI in a May 24, 2017, interview, including by denying Turkish government involvement in the hiring of Flynn and his firm, and by asserting that money allegedly kicked-back to Alptekin was actually the result of poor performance on Flynn’s part.
The new filings claim Alptekin’s Arent Fox lawyers set up the meeting voluntarily with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, just a week after Mueller was named.
It’s unclear precisely when Alptekin parted company with Arent Fox, but the Bryan Cave legal team appears to have been quietly monitoring the government’s interest in him for more than a year. One of the filings Thursday says that “a few months” after Alptekin’s May 2017 interview, the firm had a dialogue with Mueller’s team on the Turkish national’s behalf.
“The Special Counsel’s colleagues informed Mr. Alptekin’s current lawyers that the Special Counsel disbelieved some of what Mr. Alptekin had told them. They said that neither side had been prepared for the previous unsolicited meeting and that if Mr. Alptekin changed his rendition of events and told them the truth (that is, conformed his rendition of the facts to what they believed), they would operate on a clean slate and all would be forgiven,” Page and Memmen wrote. “Mr. Alptekin refused to conform his facts to their beliefs, and months later this indictment ensued.”
Alptekin and his attorneys did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
Flynn was not charged in the case filed against Kian and Alptekin. However, as part of a plea deal hammered out in 2017, the former national security adviser admitted to lying about his knowledge of the Turkish government’s involvement in the lobbying effort.
Flynn — who is awaiting sentencing on a felony false-statement charge — had been expected to be the prosecution’s star witness against Kian, but some uncertainty has developed on that front in the past day or two after Flynn fired his lawyers. That move could be a precursor to him taking a less cooperative and more combative stance towards prosecutors, potentially complicating plans to have him be the linchpin of the government’s case against his former business partner.