Fugitive linked to arms dealer held
AN INTERNATIONAL fugitive who worked with the world's most infamous arms trafficker has been arrested in Melbourne after applying to be a protective services officer.
Federal and state police arrested Richard Chichakli, 53, in Melbourne on Thursday after the US requested his extradition on charges linked to arms shipments to a notorious African war criminal.
Victoria Police confirmed he was caught by the job screening process. He had not been offered a position or started training.
Lord of War … Nicolas Cage in the role of Viktor Bout.
US authorities allege Mr Chichakli helped Viktor Bout - known as the ''merchant of death'' and portrayed by Nicolas Cage in the movie Lord of War - to buy planes illegally in the US.
In February 2010 the US announced that Bout and Mr Chichakli were wanted for money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy over their alleged links to the former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who was sentenced last year to 50 years' jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Mr Chichakli said nothing during his brief appearance at Melbourne Magistrates Court. The defence lawyer Andrew Sim said Mr Chichakli wanted to be known as Jehad Almustafa, not Chichakli, and was not applying for bail.
He was remanded in custody until Thursday after a US government lawyer said she was completing extradition proceedings.
Mr Chichakli, a US citizen, has been on the run since April 2005 when agents from the FBI and the Treasury Department raided his home near Dallas, Texas. It was rumoured he travelled first to Syria, then to Moscow.
Under US law it is illegal for associates of Taylor to do business in the US. Bout, allegedly with Mr Chichakli's help, spent years selling arms to Taylor, fuelling horrific wars in West Africa.
To get around the US laws, which mirrored United Nations sanctions, Bout and Mr Chichakli set up an airline, installed others as office holders and tried to buy two planes using front companies. When the US realised Bout controlled the front companies, it blocked the transfer of money to the companies selling the planes.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and in 2010 extradited to the US to stand trial for terrorism after being accused of intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to use against US forces.
Last April he was convicted of four counts of conspiracy to kill Americans, to sell anti-aircraft missiles, and to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organisation. Bout was a translator in the Soviet armed forces before the fall of the Iron Curtain, and is believed to have built his business using military planes left in the collapsing Soviet Union in the early 1990s. It has been claimed that in the next two decades he sold arms to warring parties in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Libya, Angola, Kenya and Lebanon. He was accused of - but denied - selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and claimed he had been contracted to transport UN personnel.
On his personal website, Mr Chichakli says he met Bout in 1995 in the United Arab Emirates where Mr Chichakli was the commercial manager of Sharjah Airport free trade zone, and Bout wanted to set up an airline.
After his contract finished, the accountant moved back to the US and set up a management consultancy. He says Bout, who by then had moved to South Africa, contacted him in 1998 and asked him to assess whether an airline Bout owned could be publicly floated.
He says the last time he had business dealings with Bout was 2000, when he tried to help the arms dealer set up a manufacturing business in the US. The US rejected Bout's visa application.
However, Mr Chichakli admits he stayed friends with Bout, saying he is proud of the fact that he did not abandon him after a damning 2000 UN report raised allegations of arms trafficking.
In 2003 in a New Yorker magazine profile of Bout, Mr Chichakli referred to him as his ''friend and brother''.
In 2011 he told a blogger via email: ''The United States government is not about justice,'' he said. ''It is all about domination and control … It is crazy to even think that Victor Bout could stand a chance of justice in the US.''