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'Cleaner' helped arms dealer: US jury

Date

Peter Mitchell

Worked as cleaner in Australia: Richard Chichakli, 54, has been found guilty of money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud.

Worked as cleaner in Australia: Richard Chichakli, 54, has been found guilty of money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud.

Richard Chichakli, who worked as a cleaner in Melbourne while he was the focus of a worldwide manhunt, has been convicted in New York of being an associate of infamous Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, known as "the Merchant of Death".

A jury in a Manhattan court found Chichakli, 54, guilty on Friday of conspiring with Bout and others to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

Chichakli, accused of being Bout's chief financial manager, was also found guilty of money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud.

Bout had a fleet of transport planes that allowed him to fly into war zones, land on jungle airstrips and offload tonnes of weapons to guerilla armies or forces loyal to dictators.

Bout, whose story inspired the 2005 thriller Lord of War starring Nicolas Cage, was accused in Chichakli's indictment of selling or brokering arms that "helped fuel conflicts and support regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan", the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said.

Bout, convicted in 2011, is serving a 25-year prison term.

Syrian-born Chichakli disappeared seven years ago after a SWAT team raided his Texas home.

It was thought he was hiding in Russia, but in January Chichakli's secret life in Australia was exposed when he decided to upgrade his career from a cleaner to an armed guard with Victoria Police.

Chichakli went by the name Jehad Almustafa in Australia, but when he submitted a fingerprint check for the protected services job his identity was exposed and Australian authorities alerted their US counterparts.

Mr Bharara publicly thanked the Australian Federal Police, Victoria Police and the Australian Attorney-General's Department.

Chichakli faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on the IEEPA conspiracy count and a maximum of 20 years on each of the other eight counts.

He will be sentenced in Manhattan in March.

AAP 

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