Michael Flynn seems to be the central focus of investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
According to a new report from Reuters, the investigation has expanded to include his former business partner, Bijan Kian, as well.
Specifically, investigators want to know about payments to Flynn’s lobbying group, Flynn Intel Group. The company is currently inactive, but previous dealings with three Russian companies, and Inovo, a company based in the Netherlands, but controlled by a Turkish businessman named Ekim Alptekin, are of particular interest.
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.
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.
Kian served five years as the director of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and would sell himself to clients as a “rainmaker” for Flynn’s company, suggesting he could use the contacts he made through his former position to make things happen.
Alptekin told Reuters in May that his firm hired Flynn Intel Group to research Gulen’s activities in the United States, which he suspected were “poisoning” relations between the United States and Turkey. Like Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan, Alptekin blamed the coup on followers of Gulen.
Gulen has denied any role in the coup and dismisses Turkey’s allegations that he heads a terrorist organization.
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.
And in October, Kian had staff with the House Homeland Security Committee to meet at Flynn Intel Group’s Virginia-based headquarters, hoping to get a congressional hearing on Gulen.
The problem seems to be Inovo’s ties to Turkey. Under the original security filings with Congress, the ties Inovo had with Turkey may not have been disclosed. Only later, after the Justice Department were made aware of the meetings between Kian, Flynn Intel Group officials, and Turkish officials, were more expansive disclosures required.
Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner has sought immunity for his client, saying, “He certainly has a story to tell,” but so far, immunity has been refused.