The strange case of Michael Flynn’s $10,000 speaker fee “from a Turkish-American”

2nd April 2017

By Laura Pitel in Ankara

I wrote a while ago about some of the Turkish-Americans who had been getting themselves an audience with Michael Flynn, a key Trump aide, in the run up to the US presidential election. Scroll down for the original post.

Documents released this weekend by the White House include a declaration by Lt Gen. Flynn —who was appointed and then forced to resign as Trump’s national security advisor — that he received $10,000 in “speaker fees” from Ibrahim Kurtuluş, a self-described Turkish-American community activist who met with him twice prior to the election.

But there is a strange twist.

I just called up Mr Kurtuluş and he is absolutely insistent that the cash didn’t come from him at all. He says it was paid by a South Korean businessman called Fa Park, who owns a company making “nail polish appliqués” and, according to Mr Kurtuluş, wrote a cheque from his family foundation.

The money was, Mr Kurtuluş says, a fee for appearing at an event in New York on “the importance of South Korea and why South Korea matters.” Several Korean diplomats attended.

Odd though that all sounds, the event does seem to have happened— in October (which is when Flynn declared that the paid event took place). Here are some screenshots from Mr Kurtuluş’s Facebook, used with his permission.

Here is Mr Kurtuluş with Mr Park (I’m not sure who the people on either side of them are).

Here is Lt Gen. Flynn at the event.

Mr Kurtuluş says: “I didn’t pay a nickel to the General. I was the conduit. I introduced the honourable gentlemen to the American-Korean community.” 
 
The money did not go via his bank account, he says. I asked if he received any money for facilitating the Korean-American event. He says: “Zero.”

Mr Kurtuluş believes Lt Gen. Flynn must have made a mistake. “I think the General perhaps could not remember the gentleman’s name and, knowing that I was conduit between the Korean-American community and the general… just put me down as the contact. The guy’s [Flynn’s] head is probably spinning. They’re throwing under a bus.”

He is also adamant that Lt Gen. Flynn received no money for the meeting between him, Mr Kurtuluş and a well-connected man called Halil Mutlu, which also took place in October, according to this Anadolu Agency story. (More info on that meeting in the original post below).

“That was a half-hour, maybe 20-minute type of just getting-to-know-each-other,” Mr Kurtuluş says. “That was it. The only money paid… was for coffee and tea for the hotel. I am emphatically sure that not a cent was paid from anyone’s pocket to the General, to me or anyone else.” He insists that he has no ties to the Turkish government or the embassy in Washington.

What is Lt Gen. Flynn going to say to all of this? And what about the Korean-American businessman Mr Park? If Mr Kurtuluş’s version of events is correct, how did Flynn manage to put down the wrong name on such an important declaration that he knew would be closely scrutinised? If the money did indeed come from Mr Park, has Flynn done anything wrong by failing (even accidentally) to disclose it? Perhaps some US-based colleagues can shed some light.

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ORIGINAL POST FROM NOVEMBER 18TH 2016

Who’s been bending the ear of Lt Gen Michael Flynn?

By Laura Pitel

There’s been a lot of excitement around Lt Gen Michael Flynn — the man who seems to be on the verge of being appointed Donald Trump’s national security adviser — and his relationship with Turkey. The former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency raised eyebrows with an article published in The Hill on election day. It suggested that the United States should accept President Erdoğan’s demand for the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, the Pennsylvania-based cleric accused of masterminding this summer’s violent coup attempt.

The immediate assumption by some was that the piece, at least in parts, was so supportive of the Turkish government that paid lobbyists must have been involved. That theory was fueled when the Daily Caller revealed that Lt Gen Flynn’s company, Flynn Intel Group, recently signed a lobbying contract with a Dutch firm called Inovo BV. The company is owned by a prominent Turkish businessmen who heads a US-Turkish business council and rubs shoulders with people in government.

I’ve spoken with Ekim Alptekin, Inovo’s owner. He says he is not an AKP member and — apart from his business liaison role — has no personal or commercial relationships with President Erdoğan or the Turkish government. He is also adamant that had nothing to do with the article in The Hill. To quote him: “Believing that Mike Flynn published that article on election day in the context of a lobbying contract requires a serious misunderstanding of the US political system or a dramatic lack of confidence in the personal intellect of Mike Flynn. You can say a lot about former directors of Defense Intelligence Agencies but they are generally not very stupid.”

It still seems odd that Lt Gen Flynn’s company took on this contract right before an election. And it’s strange that he hasn’t denied the damaging allegation that the article was written in the context of a lobbying contract — a spokesman told Politico that he was “too busy” to address the claim. But what if is not Mr Alptekin who has been influencing Lt Gen Flynn’s thinking on Turkey?

Thanks to an unlikely connection, Donald Trump’s right-hand man has also been corresponding for months with someone else with ties to Turkey. Ibrahim Kurtuluş, a New Yorker born to Turkish parents, noticed a while ago that one of his business associates seemed to know a lot about Nato and global affairs. Intrigued, he asked how. It turned out that this friend, Joe Flynn, was the younger brother of Lt Gen Flynn.

Mr Kurtuluş asked for an introduction and, just under a year ago, they began corresponding by email and phone. They’ve since met in person twice. (This was all confirmed to me by Joe Flynn).

It’s not a great photo, but here is Mr Kurtuluş with Lt Gen Flynn (photo courtesy of Ibrahim Kurtuluş)

Mr Kurtuluş, who describes himself as an enthusiastic community activist and a “staunch” Trump supporter, says he sees it as his mission to strengthen the United States by forging better ties with Turkey, a key Nato ally.

The 47-year-old has little love for the Obama administration, which he says caused “static” with Turkey by supporting Kurdish militias in Syria and refusing to bypass the lengthy legal process to extradite Gülen. He also has some pretty strong words about the Gülen movement: “Call it what it is,” he says. “It’s radical Islam. These monsters in a Trojan horse like Fethullah Gülen who are portraying themselves as moderates, their number one intent is to topple our way of life — the rule of law, democracy — and enslave all of us in their way of an ideology upon others.”

That description would be vigorously rejected by members of the Gülen movement. And Mr Gülen has denied all involved in the July 15 coup attempt. But does the language not sound similar to that of Lt Gen Flynn? In that article in The Hill, he wrote: “Gülen portrays himself as a moderate, but he is in fact a radical Islamist.”

Mr Kurtuluş says that he had no involvement at all in that article — he didn’t know about it until it came out. He says he is “no fan of the AKP or Mr Erdogan”, though he describes the Turkish president as a statesman who “inspired his people” after the coup attempt, and defends the post-coup crackdown that has attracted much criticism worldwide. He says that he is not paid for his community work, nor has he fed information from his chats with Lt Gen Flynn to anyone in the Turkish embassy or government.

There is, however, one more intriguing twist in the tale. At one meeting with Lt Gen Flynn, Mr Kurtuluş invited along Dr Halil Mutlu, another Turkish-American. Until earlier this year, Dr Mutlu was chairman of Turken, a US foundation with such close links to the Turkish government that President Erdoğan’s daughter Esra Albayrak is listed as a director.

Mr Kurtuluş is a little cagey about this. He says he asked Dr Mutlu to attend because he is a fellow community leader. He says he has “no clue” about “what type of routes he may have inside the Republic of Turkey”. On Tuesday morning, Dr Mutlu offered to answer my questions by email. I sent them almost immediately but he has yet to reply.

So where does this all leave us? I’m not sure. Perhaps it is simply worth noting: while it is Lt Gen Flynn’s link with Inovo that has grabbed the headlines, there are others who have also been bending his ear.