May 24, 2013
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
MAY 24 (WASHINGTON) –DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, today announced that Richard Ammar Chichakli, an associate of the convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout, was extradited from Australia on charges that he allegedly conspired with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”) by attempting to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States, in violation of economic sanctions that prohibited such financial transactions. 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 United States, was arrested by Australian authorities on January 9, 2013, at the request of the United States. He will appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn for presentment and arraignment on May 25, 2013.
"For many years, Richard Chichakli was a key criminal player in Viktor Bout's global weapons trafficking regime. His arrest, extradition to the U.S., and pending prosecution stands as an example that cooperative international investigations will successfully identify those criminals who seek to profit from criminal activity and harm others," Leonhart said. "Bout merged drug cartels with terrorist enablers while Chichakli worked to ensure they could ship weapons and conduct illicit business around the world. DEA and our law enforcement partners applaud the Government of Australia for this extradition and for their continued partnership in helping rid the world of dangerous terrorists and other global criminals."
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, Richard Chichakli and Viktor Bout had common cause – the purchase of aircraft in violation of international sanctions against them for their involvement in facilitating arms delivery to some of the world’s most lethal combat zones. With his extradition today to face charges for his flagrant violation of international sanctions and other crimes, he will now face the same American justice Viktor Bout did.”
According to the Superseding Indictment previously filed in Manhattan federal court and other court documents: Chichakli was a close associate of Viktor Bout since the mid-1990s. Bout is currently serving a 25-year prison term as a result of his November 2011 conviction in the Southern 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. He carried out his massive weapons-trafficking 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. Chichakli assisted Bout in the operations and financial management of his network of aircraft companies.
The arms Bout sold or brokered have fueled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan. 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 United States 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 United States.
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 United States. 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 Act; 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.