WASHINGTON, January 11 (RIA Novosti) – A US-Syrian man accused of conspiring with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has been arrested in Australia at the behest of the United States, which is seeking to extradite the suspect.
Richard Ammar Chichakli, 53, faces a possible 180-year prison sentence if convicted in the United States on charges that include money laundering, wire fraud and conspiring with Bout to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said in a statement.
“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 chief Michele Leonhart said in the statement.
A DEA spokesman told RIA Novosti on Friday that he could not give a timeline for Chichakli’s possible extradition.
“We do want him,” the spokesman said.
Chichakli appeared in Magistrates Court in Melbourne on Thursday and has denied any wrongdoing, The Australian newspaper reported Friday. He has said he is a friend of Bout’s who merely assisted the Russian with his legitimate business activities, the newspaper reported.
At the time of his arrest, Chichakli, who had been on the run from US authorities since 2005, had been living in Australia under an alias for two years and was working as a cleaner in a Melbourne suburb, The Australian reported.
He appeared on Australian authorities’ radar after providing fingerprints and other information while applying for a job as a government security officer, according to the newspaper.
Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was convicted in November 2011 of conspiracy to kill US nationals, including military officers and employees, and selling millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC.
The businessman, who denies the charges against him, was sentenced to 25 years in prison last April. Bout is serving his prison term in the United States Penitentiary, Marion (USP Marion) in Illinois.
Russia, which has called Bout’s prosecution political in nature and has vowed to make every effort to bring him home, has tried in vain to have Bout transferred from the US in line with the 1983 Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.
Bout was arrested in Bangkok in 2008, but only extradited to the United States in November 2010 after a protracted legal battle against the extradition. The Thai cabinet ultimately backed the US request for extradition.
Bout’s defense has repeatedly claimed that the extradition was illegal.
The case against Chichakli in the United States is being handled by the US Department of Justice’s terrorism and international narcotics unit.