By Alanne Orjoux
A man accused of working with convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout is under arrest in Australia, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced Thursday.
Richard Ammar Chichakli was arrested Wednesday by Australian authorities at the request of the United States, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release.
Chichakli, a U.S. and Syrian citizen, is accused of conspiring with Bout and others to buy two planes in the United States to transport weapons to conflict zones in violation of international sanctions, the release said.
He's charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud in connection with the attempted aircraft purchases, the government said.
"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," 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."
If convicted, Chichakli would face as many as 20 years in prison for each of the counts against him.
His alleged former cohort, Bout, is currently serving a 25-year sentence in the United States after being convicted in 2011 of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles and provide material support to a terrorist organization.
Nicknamed the "merchant of death," Bout armed "some of the most violent conflicts around the globe," Bharara said last April.
"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 government said in its news release Thursday.
The prosecution said that during a 2008 sting operation by U.S. drug enforcement agents in Thailand, Bout believed he was selling weapons to Colombian guerrillas. His attorneys argued that Bout was picked out by the United States government and lured into a crime manufactured by the DEA, in which the agency played "the role of judge, jury and executioner. "