Michael Flynn, more than any other figure, is pretty much Ground Zero of the faux-troversies swirling about the Trump administration. Of all of his deeds of commission and omission probably none have gained more attention than his alleged lobbying on the behalf of the Turkish government.
This is how it began. On November 8 — that would be election day — an op-ed in The Hill under a byline that identified him as a contributor: Our ally Turkey is in crisis and needs our support. The op-ed advocates closer ties to the Erdogan thugocracy and the extradition of a “dissident” Islamist, Fethullah Gülen, to face various charges in Turkey.
Eventually, it was revealed that the op-ed was written under a contract Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, has with an offshore shell company called Inovo BV. The money from that contract came from a Turkish businessman named Kamil Ekim Alptekin. According to Alptekin, he was under contract to an Israeli oil company called Ratio Oil. The deal with Flynn was related to that and, as he saw Gülen as a threat to stability and to business he was concerned with how to reduce that risk.
Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Adviser and filed a retroactive registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act covering his work for Alptekin. This has been portrayed as an admission that he was lobbying for Turkey but is actually quite different:
“Nevertheless, because of the subject matter of Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo, which focused on Mr. Fethullah Gulen, whose extradition is sought by the Government of Turkey, the engagement could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey, to eliminate any potential doubt, the Flynn Intel Group therefore is electing to file a registration under FARA, in lieu of its prior LDA registration.”
In the FARA document prepared by Flynn’s attorney, he states Alptekin represented to Flynn that Alptekin was working on behalf of an unnamed Israeli gas company that sought to import gas from Turkey.
This was all made-for-media fodder. McClatchy, in particular, released a scurrilous and libelous story alleging that Flynn had stopped a planned attack on the ISIS “capital” planned by the Obama administration because Turkey objected. The story was a tour de force of false causation ignoring the fact that the Kurdish forces the Obama administration wanted to attack had not agreed to it, that required US supplies had not been delivered, that required US training had not been provided, and the plan, itself, wasn’t even hatched until mid-December 2016 (full analysis).
Let me take a moment here to note that retroactive FARA documents are filed all the time. The last time there was a criminal prosecution for anyone under FARA was in 1966 and the Department of Justice guidelines says:
The common threads of the last four FARA criminal investigations were: millions of dollars in receipts or expenditures by the prospective defendants; “core” violations of FARA with jury appeal; and evidence of willfulness.
This is not to say Flynn can’t be prosecuted under FARA, only that he won’t.
But the story is a lot murkier.
Shortly after the Flynn-Alptekin story surfaced, Ratio said: “who is this Alptekin guy and why does he say we’re paying him?”
— נדב איל Nadav Eyal (@NadavEyalDesk) March 27, 2017
And Alptekin responded:
1/Turkish businessman @ekimalptekin who hired General Flynn tells me: 'I have never stated, confirmed or denied that I acted for Ratio Oil..
— נדב איל Nadav Eyal (@NadavEyalDesk) March 28, 2017
According to Mother Jones, that acknowledgment was swiftly denied:
Yet weeks later, Alptekin was telling the Dutch newspaper that some of the money for Flynn had indeed come from Ratio Oil Exploration. Was Ratio Oil part of the Flynn deal? It would seem not, given that the company denied any connection to Alptekin. For his part, Alptekin had initially been dodgy about its possible involvement before stating that Ratio Oil had helped to finance the Flynn project. (Ratio Oil did not respond to a request for comment.)
Yesterday, BuzzFeed (yeah, I know, right? no dancing cats were harmed in writing this story) ran a profile of Alptekin. The picture painted of him is that of a guy who would have felt right at home on the Trump campaign. He is parsimonious with the truth, he is glib, he is a hustler. He is what Carter Page would be if Page were smart and politically astute. To address the source of the Flynn funding, Alptekin produced what he says is a contract or letter agreement with Ratio Oil:
The Daily Caller asked Ratio about the document:
“The letter in question did not come from Ratio and therefore it is a forgery. Our response remains the same: Ratio did not employ the services of Mr. Ekim Alptekin,” Orit Teichner, a spokesperson for Ratio, told The Daily Caller.
Back to the BuzzFeed profile:
One of the main questions in the media about Alptekin’s dealings with Flynn is where he got the $530,000 to hire his firm. Alptekin’s aerospace dealings haven’t been doing so well, and he’s mostly been working on Istanbul-based real estate development projects. He also briefly served in 2015 as an adviser to Uber.
Alptekin said “less than $100,000” of the sum paid to Flynn came from the Ratio deal; the rest came from his own pockets and none from any official entity. “Not a penny is coming from any government,” Alptekin said.
Others aren’t so sure. “Spending half a million dollars on this kind of issue doesn’t add up for a businessman,” said Ilhan Tanir, a Turkish journalist in Washington who is investigating Alptekin’s affairs. “The rumor is that he’s not that wealthy of a man.”
Alptekin has said that he has plenty of money. He said his real estate projects include a development along Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait, with 54 flats each averaging $2 million. “To think that I can’t pay half a million dollars is nonsense,” said Alptekin.
Last summer, he was pilloried in the Turkish press for supposedly having had a specific kind of Turkish pastry flown to him on the Greek island where he was vacationing on his private jet. (He says his plane was coming anyway, and that the pastry were a treat for his Greek hosts)
What seems to be true is that Alptekin did represent to Flynn that the real client was Ratio Oil.
This is one of those situations where the possible answers are boundless. Ratio Oil could be lying about their relationship in order to avoid political fallout. Alptekin could have fronted the money as a way to ingratiate himself with Flynn, though when he cut the deal the odds of Trump winning looked very unfavorable. Alptekin, as wild as it seems, could be lying about the source of the money. Alptekin may or may not be wealthy… or he might just be a hustler skating on the edge of bankruptcy.
The one thing for sure is that the finances of Alptekin and of Flynn Intel Group have the interest of the FBI and that is never a good thing.