Richard Chichakli, Viktor Bout’s right hand financial wizard, was convicted in federal court in New York Friday for conspiring with the Russian arms dealer to buy two cargo planes in violation of international sanctions against both men.
A federal jury found the U.S.-Syrian citizen guilty of conspiracy in trying to violate the financial sanctions leved against him, one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of wire fraud conspiracy as well as six counts of wire fraud.
Chichakli, once an official of an airport free trade zone in the United Arab Emirates and later an accountant based near Dallas, had tried to buy two cargo planes in 2007 on behalf of Samar Airlines, a company he secretly owned with Bout. Chichakli and Bout were involved in numerous aviation companies since the 1990s, although Chichakli long insisted he had no business relationship with the Russian.
He had long acted as an intermediary for journalists and others who sought Bout, and acknowledged at the close of the trial that “it is no secret that Viktor Bout is my friend.”
A colorful character who left trails of conflicting information about himself and had a fascination with culinary fruit plates, Chichakli was targeted with U.S. Treasury sanctions in 2005, fleeing the U.S. and turning up in Moscow, where Bout had also fled after international authorities turned up the pressure to seek his capture. Both men worked together there, frequenting sushi restraurants and taunting Western officials, and, as U.S. documents eventually showed, continued their secret deals involving planes and arms.
After Bout’s arrest, Chichakli disappeared, turning up in Australia early this year, arrested by authorities after he applied for a law enforcement job. He admitted to living there for two years under a pseudonym, making a living by running a carpet cleaning company.
Bout was captured in Thailand in 2008 after a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration sting targeted him. Extradited in 2011 after a long diplomatic tug of war between the U.S. and Russia, he was convicted on conspiracy charges in 2012 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Bout is now held at a medium security federal prison in Marion, Ill.
Chichakli handled much of his defense during the two-week trial but apparently did little to persuade the jury that he was, as he alleged, the victim of “vindictive prosecution.”
Chichakli is due to be sentenced in March.
–AP, “A Syrian associate of notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout was convicted on Friday of charges he tried to make an illegal purchase of two airplanes to transport weapons to international war zones.”
–Sydney Morning Herald, “An international fugitive who tried to become a protective services officer while hiding out in Melbourne has been convicted in the US of being an associate of an infamous Russian arms dealer.”
–U.S. Attorney, Manhattan, “Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that RICHARD AMMAR CHICHAKLI, an associate of international arms dealer Viktor Bout, was found guilty today, by a jury in Manhattan federal court, of conspiring with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by attempting to purchase commercial airplanes from American companies in violation of U.S. sanctions.