Twisted tale ...Richard Chichakli, right, is wanted in the US for dealings with arms warlord Viktor Bout, top left, who was played by actor Nicholas Cage, bottom left, in the Hollywood movie Lord of War.
A fugitive associate of the world's most infamous arms trafficker arrested in Melbourne this week apparently entered Australia on a false passport.
The Department of Immigration said this morning it is likely that Richard Chichakli – who was arrested after applying to become a protective services officer – entered the country under an assumed identity.
"The department is working with the Australian Federal Police to assess the situation and determine what action can be taken against the person arrested if the allegations of identity fraud are proven to be correct. As the case is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for the department to go into further detail," a department spokesman said.
Viktor Bout. Photo: Reuters
Authorities would not reveal how long Chichakli has been in Australia or the country he came fromn, citing US legal action, but he may have been staying in the Preston area.
Fairfax Media revealed that the 53-year-old accountant and close friend of 'merchant of death' Viktor Bout had been seized by state and federal police and will be extradited to the United States after spending almost eight years on the run.
US officials allege Chichakli helped Bout - portrayed in fictional form by Nicolas Cage in the movie Lord of War - illegally buy planes in the US.
Nicolas Cage in Lord of War.
In February 2010, the US announced that Bout and Chichakli were wanted for money laundering, wire fraud and conspiracy over their alleged links to former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, who was sentenced last year to 50 years' jail for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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 went first to Syria and then Moscow.
"The international law enforcement community has long recognised 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," US Drug Enforcement Administration official Michele Leonhart said yesterday.
"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."
Under American law, it was illegal for associates of Taylor to do business in the US. Bout, allegedly with the help of Chichakli, spent years selling arms to Taylor, fuelling the horrific wars in west Africa in recent decades.
To get around the US laws, which mirrored United Nations sanctions, Bout and allegedly Chichakli set up an airline, installed other people as office-holders and tried to buy two planes using front companies.
When the US government realised the front companies were controlled by Bout, it blocked the transfer of money to the companies selling the planes.
Bout was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited in 2010 to the US to stand trial on terrorism charges, after being accused of intending to smuggle arms to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to use against US forces.
He was sentenced last April to 25 years' jail on charges 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 up his business using military planes left on airfields of the collapsing Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
It has been claimed that over 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 arms to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and claimed he was contracted at one point to transport UN personnel.
On his personal website, Chichakli claims he met Bout in 1995 in the United Arab Emirates, where Chichakli worked as commercial manager of Sharjah airport's 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 that time 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 any business dealings with Bout was in 2000, when he tried to help the arms dealer set up a manufacturing business in the US. Bout's visa application was rejected by the US government.
But Chichakli does admit he remained friends with Bout, saying he is proud of the fact he did not abandon him in the wake of a damning 2000 UN report that first raised allegations of arms trafficking.
In a 2003 New Yorker magazine profile of Bout, Chichakli referred to him as his "friend and brother". In the same interview, he claimed to be the nephew of the former president of Syria and the son of a former Syrian under-secretary of defence. He also said he served in the US Army.
"The United States government is not about justice, it is all about domination and control. The US government, despite its grave mistakes throughout time, never ever admit being wrong, nor once acknowledge making a mistake," Chichakli told a blogger in 2011 via email.
"It is crazy to even think that Victor Bout could stand a chance of justice in the US. Can you imagine the possibility of Victor not getting convicted? It is the Iraq weapon of Mass destruction, the Democracy in Bahrain, Saudi, and Yemen, winning war in Afghanistan and Somalia, and the justice of Guantamo [sic] … and people thought Obama will bring change!"