A retroactive Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the US Department of Justice on Tuesday by attorneys for ousted Trump national security advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has revealed that Flynn’s consulting company was hired by a Dutch firm owned by a Turkish national with close ties to Turkey’s government and president for the purpose of researching US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen and the charter schools in the United States associated with him.
Gülen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, while once close to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in Turkey, had a falling out with them after a corruption scandal implicating top government officials and the president’s family in 2013 and is now without any evidence accused of masterminding an attempted coup in Turkey in July of last year.
The Turkish government has for some time been seeking Gülen’s extradition from the United States.
According to the filing, which replaces a previous registration with the US Congress under the Lobbying Disclosure Act in September, Flynn Intel Group was retained by private firm Inovo BV for what it understood was to be work “focused on improving US business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, particularly with respect to the stability of Turkey and its suitability as a venue for investment and commercial activity.”
The FARA filing was made retroactively when Flynn Intel Group realized that although it “was engaged by a private firm, Inovo BV, and not by a foreign government, because of the subject matter of the engagement, Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.”
Inovo BV, registered in the Netherlands, is owned by Turkish national Ekim Alptekin, an ally of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and also chairman of the Turkish American Business Council (DEIK/TAIK), a non-profit arm of Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board. Alptekin helped coordinate a visit to the US by Erdoğan last year.
The filing, however, indicates that “[t]he research, which was conducted by independent contractors retained for this purpose, focused on Mr. Fethullah [Gulen] and charter schools in the United States that are associated with, or allegedly associated with, Mr. Gulen. The results of Flynn Intel Group’s research were provided to Inovo, and to S.G.R. LLC Government Relations and Lobbying, the public relations firm engaged by Flynn Intel Group. Flynn Intel Group and the public relations firm developed various materials and documents related to this research for potential dissemination.”
In early September 2016, Flynn Intel Group was invited by Alptekin to meet with government officials from Turkey “for the purpose of understanding better the political climate in Turkey at the time, as background for the project. Officials of the Republic of Turkey attending this meeting on September 19, 2016, in New York, were the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Energy, to the best of Flynn Intel Group’s current understanding,” according to the FARA filing.
The energy minister of Turkey is and was at the time of the meeting Berat Albayrak, the son-in-law of President Erdoğan. Albayrak was the subject of an email hack last year that exposed embarrassing dealings on his part and that of the Erdoğan family, including conspiring to affect US congressional elections by proposing a strategy for pro-Turkish-government lobbyists in the US to target members of the US Congress who were taken on trips to Turkey by US-based sympathizers of the Gülen movement.
Erdoğan is under intense scrutiny in the West for his increasingly authoritarian style of governance and a widespread purge of suspected or alleged Gülen followers from state institutions in which more than 100,000 people have been dismissed from their jobs.
Although according to the filing the project with Inovo was terminated early and the full scope of the contract was not performed, the results of Flynn Intel Group’s research on Gülen were given to Inovo and PR firm S.G.R., which created a Gülen-themed monopoly graphic at the direction of Flynn Intel Group titled “The Mula Mullah – Gulenopoly.” To the best of its knowledge, according to the filing, the document and associated research was not disseminated other than to Inovo. However, a reproduction of the graphic appeared on social media, with a tweet that “[SGR] never used it, but another lobbying firm did…”
The FARA filing also refers to an op-ed written by Flynn that appeared in The Hill publication on Nov. 8, 2016, just hours before Trump was declared president-elect, in which he repeatedly praised Erdoğan and called on the next president of the US to extradite US-based Turkish scholar Gülen to Turkey as Erdoğan accuses him of masterminding the failed coup in Turkey on July 15.
Turkish authorities claim Gülen was the mastermind behind the violent coup attempt that killed over 240 people and injured a thousand others, while Gülen strongly denies any involvement.
The op-ed was developed “based, in part, on the research conducted by Flynn Intel Group under the Inovo engagement. The op-ed was not written or published at the request of, or under the direction of control of, Inovo, the Republic of Turkey or any other party. No compensation was received for the publication of the op-ed. … Nonetheless, the op-ed addresses subject matter related to the research that Flynn Intel Group conducted for Inovo, and a draft of the op-ed was shared with Inovo in advance of publication,” according to the filing.
Flynn Intel Group received a total of $530,000 from Inovo BV from Sept. 9, 2016 to Nov. 14, 2016 for work performed under the contract.