NEW YORK, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- Richard Chichakli, an associate of arms dealer Viktor Bout, has been arrested in Australia for allegedly trying to buy two aircraft illegally, authorities said.
Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release Thursday Chichakli is suspected of conspiring with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by attempting to buy two aircraft from companies in the United States in violation of economic sanctions.
Chichakli, a citizen of Syria, is prohibited by a 2005 presidential executive order from conducting business of any kind in the United States, in part because of his association with former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Prosecutors said Thursday he and Bout set up a company called Samar Airlines, but had it registered in the names of others to hide their affiliation, and then tried to buy two Boeing aircraft through Samar from companies in the United States.
Chichakli has been charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six separate counts of wire fraud, the release said.
Bout -- sometimes called a "merchant of death" -- was convicted in U.S. federal court in 2011 on charges of arms trafficking and terrorism conspiracy. He was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison.
He was arrested in Thailand in March 2008 in a Drug Enforcement Administration sting that used informants posing as representatives of a Colombian terrorist group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Leonhart said Thursday law enforcement officials have long regarded 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."
"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," Leonhart said.
The DEA said weapons sold by or through Bout "have fueled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan."