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‘Merchant of Death’ co-conspirator jailed five years

Richard Ammer Chichakli, an associate of convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout, was sentenced Thursday in Manhattan federal court to five years in prison.

Chichakli, pictured, is a dual U.S. and Syrian citizen. He was arrested in Australia in January last year and extradited to the United States in May 2013.

He was convicted in December last year after a four-week trial.

The jury found him guilty of conspiring with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by trying to buy commercial airplanes from American companies in violation of U.S. sanctions.

He was also found guilty of one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of wire fraud conspiracy, and six counts of wire fraud.

His plan with Bout was to ferry the aircraft to Tajikistan and use them to transport weapons to conflict zones in violation of international sanctions, the DOJ said.

Bout was arrested in a sting in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States. He’s now serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted in 2011 in federal court in New York of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization.

He was often called the Merchant of Death because he armed “some of the most violent conflicts around the globe,” the DOJ 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,” the DOJ said.

Chichakli and Bout had been designated by the U.S. Treasury Department as Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs). That meant individuals and businesses in the United States weren’t permitted to do business with them.

In addition to five years in prison, Chichakli was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $1.7 million.

Chichakli tried to evade the SDN sanctions by concealing his identity and his SDN listing, and by concealing Viktor Bout’s involvement in the airplane transactions, the DOJ said.

Chichakli “helped to make a series of wire transfer payments, totaling more than $1.7 million from overseas bank accounts into accounts in the United States” in connection with the attempt to buy the airplanes, the DOJ said.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III presided over the trial and imposed the sentence.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Richard Chichakli conspired to violate international sanctions by attempting to buy commercial aircraft from an American company, even though it was illegal for that company to do business with him. He illegally tried to conceal his own identity and the involvement in the transactions of international arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Now Richard Chichakli will again be engaged in the same enterprise as Viktor Bout: serving time in a federal prison.”

Chichakli posted this video on YouTube in early 2010 proclaiming his innocence. He later fled to Australia.

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Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.

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