(WASHINGTON) — Federal authorities announced Thursday the arrest of an American they said was a co-conspirator of the so-called “Merchant of Death,” Victor Bout.
Richard Chichakli, a dual Syrian-U.S. citizen, is alleged to have been the money man and “facilitator” for Bout during his long, notorious career as an international arms dealer. Chichakli was arrested by Australian authorities at the request of the U.S. Wednesday, according to a statement from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“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,” DEA Administrator Michele 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.”
After the U.S. announced a new indictment against Chichakli in February 2010, Chichakli took to the Internet to defend himself in a video, saying he was never an employee of Bout’s and that American prosecutors were lying about his involvement.
“Everything about the indictment, everything, collectively and individually, is nothing but lies,” he said then. “They want you to believe that I was doing the day-to-day activities… [The prosecutor] lies worse than a dog.”
Bout, a former Soviet military officer, is currently serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted of conspiring to sell millions of dollars-worth of weapons to a violent Columbian revolutionary group, but international authorities say that was just one dirty deal in Bout’s staggering career built around selling guns to anyone willing to pay, including Third World despots and insurgent groups.
Bout is believed to be the inspiration for Nicolas Cage’s character in Lord of War, a film about a prolific Eastern European arms dealer.
The DEA said Chichalki was a “close associate” of Bout’s starting in the mid-1990s and had been “assisting in the operations and financial management of his network of aircraft companies.”
The specific charges against Chichakli stem from his alleged attempt to purchase two aircraft from American companies that were to be used to ship weapons for Bout’s enterprise, according to the DEA. He was also wanted on charges including money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy.
If convicted, Chichakli faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the nine counts, totaling a possible 180 years, the DEA said.
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