Alleged Victor Bout accomplice, Richard Ammar Chichakli, arrested in Melbourne
An alleged associate of the world’s most notorious arms trafficker has been arrested in Australia after he tried to apply for a job as an armed guard with Victoria Police.
Megan Neil – (AAP) -January 11, 2013 – Authorities are investigating whether Richard Ammar Chichakli entered Australia under an assumed identity.
The 53-year-old was arrested in Melbourne on Thursday for allegedly conspiring with a Russian arms dealer known as the “merchant of death” to buy two planes to ship weapons to conflict zones across the world.
He was identified after he applied to become a protective services officer (PSO) – armed guards who patrol railway stations, courts and Parliament House.
The man was found to be a person of interest through a routine background check and was not offered a job, a Victoria Police spokesman told AAP.
American authorities allege Chichakli, who had been on the run from them since 2005, is an associate of international arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was jailed in April for 25 years after being convicted on terrorism charges arising from a US sting operation.
US Attorney Preet Bharara, the chief federal prosecutor in New York, said Chichakli was apprehended thanks to the cooperative efforts of law enforcement partners in the US and abroad, and thanked Australian authorities for their help.
“As alleged, Richard Ammar Chichakli consorted with the world’s most notorious arms trafficker in the purchase of aircraft that would be used to transport weapons to some of the world’s bloodiest conflict zones, in violation of international sanctions,” Mr Bharara said in a statement released in Washington.
US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) administrator Michele Leonhart said the international law enforcement community had long recognised Chichakli as a key criminal facilitator in Bout’s global weapons trafficking regime.
“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,” she said in the statement.
Chichakli, a US and Syrian citizen, was arrested at the request of the US government on nine charges.
US authorities allege Chichakli conspired with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by attempting to buy two aircraft from US companies through a company called Samar Airlines in 2007, in violation of economic sanctions imposed in 2004 prohibiting such financial transactions.
Chichakli is also charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six separate counts of wire fraud, in connection with the attempted aircraft purchases.
His lawyer told a brief hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday that Chichakli wanted to be known as Jehad Almustafa, Fairfax reported.
According to the US indictment charging Chichakli, he has been a close associate of Bout since at least the mid-1990s, assisting in the operations and financial management of his network of aircraft companies.
Bout and Chichakli are alleged to have had a close relationship with former Liberian president Charles Taylor, resulting in them being subject to travel and business sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council and the US.
On his personal website, Chichakli says he has been friends with Bout since 1996, but is not and was not an employee or associate of Bout or any of his companies for any length of time.
Bout, 45, who was arrested in Thailand in March 2008, was the inspiration for an arms dealer character played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War.
The arms Bout has sold or brokered have fuelled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan, the US statement says.
US authorities are finalising extradition proceedings, with Chichakli to appear in court again on Thursday. (Click HERE for original article)