Last Thursday, the Southern District of New York announced the arrest of Richard Ammar Chichakli in Australia. Chichakli has been charged with violations under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), money laundering, wire fraud, and conspiracy.

It is alleged that Chichakli is an associate of Viktor Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death” by law enforcement authorities and the press for his dealings in international arms trafficking. Bout allegedly established an international network to facilitate arms trafficking, and furnished arms to the former regime of Charles Taylor in Liberia. Bout was convicted in November 2011 in the Southern District of New York for allegedly selling weapons to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC, and is currently serving his 25-year sentence.

Chichakli’s indictment focuses mainly on his alleged connections to Bout’s network of arms trafficking. The U.S. Government believes that Chichakli assisted in the management and operations of several of Bout’s airline companies that facilitated the transportation of illegal weaponry. The U.S. followed the lead of the United Nations, in that once the U.N. Security Council designated Chichakli in 2004, the U.S. followed thereafter. On April 26, 2005, Chichakli was placed on the Specially Designated Nationals List (SDN List) by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) under the Liberia sanctions program.

The indictment alleges that in order to evade U.S. sanctions, Chichakli pursued airline operations under the guise of the names of others, and used the airline, named Samar Airlines, to engage in the transportation of illegal arms. It is further alleged that Chichakli attempted to purchase two airplanes from a U.S. aviation company. The indictment also cites money laundering, wire fraud, and conspiracy for the transfer funds in the amount of $1.7 million related to arms trafficking that passed through the U.S. financial system.

The U.S. has pursued Chichakli for years, and finally arrested him with the help of Australian authorities. Chichakli could have benefited from attempting to contact the U.S. Government first and contesting his designation through a formal administrative process. Pursuing a request for reconsideration through OFAC allows a designated person or entity to contest the designation and also provide reasons and evidence in support of the wrongful designation.

At this point, Chichakli is facing multiple federal charges that are rooted in IEEPA violations. The national security implications alone are difficult to overcome. If Chichakli argues that he did not engage in the overt acts willfully, and attacks the circumstantial evidence against him, it might work in his favor. The other course of action, which may be his best option, is to begin plea negotiations. If he can provide substantial assistance to the U.S. Government, his ultimate sentence may be reduced.

The author of this blog is Erich Ferrari, an attorney specializing in Federal Criminal Defense matters. If you have any questions please contact him at 202-280-6370 or ferrari@ferrariassociatespc.com.

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