A federal judge has overturned a jury verdict convicting a onetime business partner of former US national security adviser Michael Flynn of illegally lobbying for Turkey.
US District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled that prosecutors failed to show that Bijan Rafiekian knowingly acted as a secret agent for Turkey’s government under Ankara’s direction or control, and concealed his role from US authorities.
“The verdict was against the heavy weight of the evidence,” the judge wrote in a 39-page decision on Tuesday.
A spokesman for US Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger in Alexandria, Virginia, said that office was reviewing the decision.
Rafiekian, co-founder of the Flynn Intel Group consulting firm, had been convicted on July 23 after a weeklong trial.
Rafiekian was accused of conspiring with Turkish-Dutch businessman Ekim Alptekin to lobby on Turkey’s behalf to persuade the US government to extradite dissident cleric Fethullah Gülen.
Turkey has accused Gülen of orchestrating a failed 2016 coup to topple President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in a fortified Pennsylvania compound, has denied any involvement.
Alptekin remained abroad during Rafiekian’s trial and has denied the allegations against him.
It was unclear how Trenga’s decision would affect the criminal case against Flynn, who lasted three weeks as Trump’s first national security adviser.
Flynn faces a scheduled Dec. 18 sentencing, after having pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations in December 2016 with Russian’s ambassador to the United States about sanctions that Obama had imposed on Moscow.
Prosecutors called off plans to have Flynn testify against Rafiekian, deciding instead to portray the retired US Army lieutenant general as Rafiekian’s co-conspirator. Trenga said if a federal appeals court found enough evidence to sustain Rafiekian’s conviction, he would grant a new trial, citing concern about his own jury instructions.