An associate of convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout has been arrested in Australia in connection with a conspiracy with Bout and others to illegally purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration boss Michele Leonhart said Thursday.
Richard A. Chichakli also is charged with money-laundering conspiracy, wire-fraud conspiracy and six separate counts of wire fraud. A Syrian national, Mr. Chichakli was arrested by Australian police at the request of U.S. authorities.
“The international law enforcement community has long recognized Richard Chichakli as a key criminal facilitator in Viktor Bout’s global weapons-trafficking regime, and his arrest means the world is safer and more secure,” Ms. Leonhart said. “Bout merged drug cartels with terrorist enablers, and his close associate, Chichakli, worked to ensure they could ship weapons and conduct illicit business around the world. DEA continues to forge strong partnerships worldwide and applauds our Australian police partners.”
Bout is currently serving a 25-year prison term on his November 2011 conviction for conspiring to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, as it is known by its Spanish acronym, a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia.
Prior to his arrest on those charges in March 2008 in Thailand, and since the 1990s, Bout was an international weapons trafficker who carried out his massive weapons-trafficking business by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Ms. Leonhart said the arms Bout has sold or brokered have fueled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
Mr. Chichakli has been a close associate of Bout’s since at least the mid-1990s, assisting in the operations and financial management of his network of aircraft companies, authorities said.
In connection with the purchase of the aircraft and related services, Mr. Chichakli and Bout electronically transferred more than $1.7 million through banks in New York and into bank accounts located in the U.S., they said.
They did so, authorities said, through a number of front companies, the assets of which were also owned and controlled by Bout to evade the sanctions regime and prohibitions. On the discovery that Mr. Chichakli was connected to Samar Airlines, the Treasury Department blocked the funds that had been transferred into the bank accounts of the U.S. aviation companies.
A superseding indictment charges Mr. Chichakli with conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act; money-laundering conspiracy; wire-fraud conspiracy; and wire fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the nine counts. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III in New York.