DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, announced that RICHARD AMMAR CHICHAKLI, an associate of convicted international arms dealer, Viktor Bout, was arrested yesterday in Australia for, among other things, allegedly conspiring with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by attempting to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the U.S., in violation of economic sanctions that prohibited such financial transactions. In addition, 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. CHICHAKLI, a citizen of Syria and the U.S., was arrested by Australian authorities at the request of the U.S.
“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.”
Bharara said: “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. Thanks to the cooperative efforts of all of our law enforcement partners, both here and abroad, Chichakli has finally been apprehended and will now face justice.”
According to the Superseding Indictment previously filed in Manhattan federal court and other court documents:
Bout is presently serving a 25-year prison term as a result of his November 2011 conviction in this district for conspiring to sell millions of dollars of weapons to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (the “FARC”), a designated foreign terrorist organization based in Colombia. Prior to his arrest on those charges in March 2008, in Thailand, and since the 1990s, Bout was an international weapons trafficker. Bout carried out his massive weaponstrafficking business by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America, and the Middle East.
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. CHICHAKLI had been a close associate of Bout’s since at least the mid-1990s, assisting in the operations and financial management of his network of aircraft companies. As a result of Bout’s role in pouring arms into these international conflicts, his relationship with CHICHAKLI, and Bout and CHICHAKLI’s close relationship with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, both Bout and CHICHAKLI have been the subject of United Nations Security Council (“UNSC”) sanctions restricting their travel and their ability to conduct business around the world. In addition, more than 25 companies affiliated with Bout and CHICHAKLI have been listed by the UNSC as subject to similar restrictions concerning their assets and financial transactions.
In 2004, consistent with the sanctions previously adopted by the UNSC concerning Liberia, the President of the United States issued an executive order prohibiting any transactions or dealings within the U.S. by individuals affiliated with former President Taylor. Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Treasury, pursuant to its authority under IEEPA, prohibited Bout from conducting any business in the U.S. In 2005, that prohibition was extended to CHICHAKLI.
The United Nations and IEEPA sanctions encumbered CHICHAKLI’s and Bout’s efforts to conduct business within their existing corporate structures. Accordingly, CHICHAKLI and Bout took steps to form new companies, and to register these companies in the names of other individuals in order to create the false appearance that they had no affiliation with them. One such company – Samar Airlines – was created in 2004, right after the majority of United Nations and IEEPA sanctions became effective. CHICHAKLI and Bout were personally involved in the operational and business affairs and decisions of Samar Airlines, though they held out other individuals as being the officers of the company. In 2007, in violation of the IEEPA sanctions to which they were subject at the time, CHICHAKLI and Bout, acting through Samar Airlines, contracted to purchase two Boeing aircraft from companies located in the U.S.
In connection with the purchase of these aircraft and related services, CHICHAKLI and Bout electronically transferred more than $1.7 million through banks in New York and into bank accounts located in the U.S. They did so through a number of front companies, the assets of which were also owned and controlled by Bout, in order to evade the UNSC’s sanctions regime and IEEPA prohibitions. Upon the discovery that CHICHAKLI was connected to Samar Airlines, the U.S. Treasury Department blocked the funds that had been transferred into the bank accounts of the U.S. aviation companies. The Superseding Indictment charges CHICHAKLI with nine separate offenses:
- Count One: Conspiracy to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers
- Count Two: Money laundering conspiracy;
- Count Three: Wire fraud conspiracy; and
- Counts Four through Nine: Wire fraud.
If convicted, CHICHAKLI faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the nine counts. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley, III.