EXCLUSIVE-U.S. investigators in Russia probe look at role of Flynn partner


Reuters

UPDATE 1-EXCLUSIVE-U.S. investigators in Russia probe look at role of Flynn partner


(Adds background on Gulen)
    By Nathan Layne and Julia Edwards AinsleyNEW YORK, June 20 (Reuters) - Federal investigators probing
the lobbying work of ousted national security adviser Michael
Flynn are focused in part on the role of Bijan Kian, Flynn's
former business partner, according to a person interviewed by
the FBI.
    Investigators are also looking at whether payments from
foreign clients to Flynn and his company, the now-inactive Flynn
Intel Group, were lawful, according to two separate sources with
knowledge of the broad inquiry into Flynn's business activities.
That includes payments by three Russian companies and a
Netherlands-based company, Inovo, controlled by Turkish
businessman Ekim Alptekin, they said.
    The FBI's interest in Kian has not been previously reported.
Kian played a central role in securing and overseeing the Inovo
contract, two people with knowledge of that project said.
    It is not clear whether Kian is a target of the criminal
investigation or whether investigators are trying to build a
fuller understanding of how Flynn's company operated.
    A person recently interviewed by the FBI in connection with
the Flynn investigation said agents from the bureau's criminal
division had asked as much about Kian and his work on the
project with Alptekin as they had about Flynn.
    Kian did not respond to repeated requests for comment, nor
did the lawyer he recently hired, Robert Trout. The FBI declined
to comment.
    Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, did not respond to requests
for comment. Alptekin declined to comment for this story but
last month told Reuters that he was satisfied with the work done
by Flynn Intel Group and denied any wrongdoing.
    The FBI has been investigating whether Flynn's consulting
firm lobbied on behalf of Turkey - after being paid $530,000 by
Inovo - without making the proper disclosure, Reuters reported
earlier this month.[nL1N1IZ171]
    The federal investigation is being run by special counsel
Robert Mueller. Mueller has a mandate to investigate contacts
between Russia and Trump's 2016 election campaign team and any
related matters. Flynn was fired by the Trump administration in
February after officials said he mischaracterized a series of
phone calls with Russia's ambassador last December.
    The top Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight
and Government Reform, which has separately been looking into
whether Flynn made false statements in applying for security
clearance, said he was also scrutinizing Kian.
    "I have an interest in Bijan Kian and his interactions with
General Flynn based on specific documents already obtained by
the Committee," Elijah Cummings told Reuters in an email.
    Kelner has sought immunity for Flynn in exchange for his
testimony, saying his client "certainly has a story to tell."

    FAILED COUP OPENS A DOOR
    In private conversations with potential clients, Kian
portrayed himself as a rainmaker for Flynn, tapping into
connections cultivated during a five-year tenure as a director
at the U.S. Export-Import Bank, according to one person who
worked with the firm.
    Alptekin told Reuters in May that his firm hired Flynn Intel
Group to research Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen's activities in
the United States, which he suspected were "poisoning" relations
between the United States and Turkey. Like Turkish President
Tayyip Erdogan, Alptekin blamed a failed coup in Turkey last
July on followers of Gulen.
    Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania
since 1999, has denied involvement in the attempted coup and
dismisses Turkey's allegations that he heads a terrorist
organization.
    Kian oversaw key elements of the project that emerged,
including a still-unfinished documentary on Gulen, according to
two people involved in the project.
    Inovo paid Flynn Intel Group a total of $530,000, starting
in September, according to a Justice Department filing by the
company in March. Flynn Intel Group paid $80,000 to Inovo in
"consultancy fees," according to the filing, which does not
provide more detail on why payments were made in both
directions.
    On Sept. 19, Kian and Flynn met in New York with
Turkey's foreign minister and energy minister, who is Erdogan's
son-in-law, according to a person with knowledge of the
meeting.
    In late October, Kian invited staff of the House Homeland
Security Committee to Flynn Intel Group's headquarters in
Virginia. The meeting was called to show off new mobile phone
security technology, but Kian also used the opportunity to try
to get a congressional hearing on Gulen, according to a
person at the meeting.
    At that point, the Flynn Intel Group had only disclosed its
work for Alptekin's Inovo in a filing with Congress. It had not
mentioned Inovo's ties to Turkey.
    When Justice Department officials became aware months later
that Kian and other Flynn Intel Group officials had met with
Turkish officials they insisted on a fuller disclosure, people
involved in those discussions said.
    The Flynn Intel Group made the more detailed disclosure in
its March filing with the Justice Department under the Foreign
Agents Registration Act that said the work that Flynn and Kian
did for Inovo "could be construed to have principally benefited
the Republic of Turkey."

 (Reporting by Nathan Layne; Additional reporting by John
Walcott, Julia Harte and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing
by Kevin Krolicki and Ross Colvin)
 ((nathan.layne@thomsonreuters.com))

Keywords: USA TRUMP/RUSSIA KIAN (UPDATE 1, EXCLUSIVE, PIX)



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