New Charges for 'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout's Accused Henchman

Richard Chichakli

Richard Chikachli, the alleged U.S. business associate of Russian arms trader Viktor Bout is facing fresh charges that he filed false tax returns and failed to report his ownership of foreign bank accounts.

Meanwhile, Chichakli, who is already facing money laundering charges and has been a fugitive from federal authorities since 2005, hit back at prosecutors with an angry YouTube video posted from an unknown location. Chichakli, who has a history of issuing defiant on-line statements in his battle with the U.S. government, promised many more on-line updates in the future.

Chichakli is wanted for his alleged role aiding Viktor Bout, an arms merchant who has been dubbed "The Merchant of Death" for his role in alleged arms trafficking around the world, even working for the U.S. in Iraq.

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After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bout, a former Soviet military officer, made his fortune selling Soviet-era weaponry to Third World despots and insurgent groups. Bout allegedly used fleets of Cold War-era Soviet cargo planes to run guns for dictators, including Liberia's Charles Taylor and Zaire's Mubuto Sese Seko, as well as rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and beyond.

International authorities had tried to freeze Bout's assets after he was accused of providing weapons to Liberia's Taylor, who was fueling a bloody insurgency in neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor is currently on trial before an international court for his alleged role in the violence. Bout's payments from Taylor allegedly included diamonds.

A UN investigation of Bout and Chichakli alleged that Chichakli served as chief financial officer for the Bout companies that ferried the weapons.

Bout was arrested in Thailand in a 2008 sting operation and has been battling his extradition to the U.S. ever since. He was initially indicted in March 2008 for conspiring to kill Americans for attempting to sell arms to the left-wing FARC insurgents in Colombia.

Chichakli, a U.S. citizen, has been on the run since April 2005, when agents from the FBI and Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control raided his home near Dallas, Texas.

The agents seized his assets and business records, which allegedly showed that Bout moved money through the U.S. through several front companies. Agents also recovered a stash of diamonds from his office, according to officials. Chichakli is believed to have fled to Syria where he had family, but later moved again because he was unable to access his bank accounts. He is now believed to be in Moscow.

Following the seizure of his assets in 2005, Chichakli established a web site defending himself. In a 2007 letter posted on the web site, Chichakli disputed his connections with Bout, asserting, "I, Richard Chichakli, hereby testify that I was not at any given time an employee of Victor Bout's companies including Aircess, Airpass, Metavia Airlines, and Central Africa Airlines in the capacity the government alleges, and I never received employment salaries or benefits from these entities."

On the web site Chichakli also addresses an open letter to the FBI: "Furthermore, should you have any questions about this case, Victor Bout, the weather in Moscow, or just want to ask how I'm doing, please feel free to call or drop me an e-mail at any time."

Chichakli had not been formally charged, however, till two weeks ago. Bout and Chichakli were indicted on February 17 in the Southern District of New York on federal charges of conspiracy, money laundering, wire fraud and violating the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) for allegedly trying to hide millions in profits from arms dealing. According to prosecutors, the men allegedly attempted to set up a front company and purchase two Boeing 727s for the air fleet Bout uses to run his arms trafficking.

On February 18, the day after that indictment was announced, Chichakli issued an on-line press release, asserting he was in Moscow. "It appears that the U.S. government is now trying a new technique to silence me after the failure of the repeated immunity offers I rejected," Chichakli said in the statement.

The latest indictment against Chichakli, unsealed Thursday, Feb. 25, does not mention Viktor Bout but charges Chichakli with false statements and failure to report a foreign bank account he held in Belgium at Fortis Bank. The indictment, which was brought in Dallas, was returned on July 22, 2009 bur kept sealed. The Justice Department decided to bring the Dallas case to light after the New York indictment was filed against Bout and Chichakli earlier this month.

In a YouTube video posted by Chichakli on February 24, two days before the Dallas indictment was unsealed, he insists that the U.S. government was unable to find any wrongdoing when they investigated him for his alleged connections to Bout from 2002 to 2008. He claims they have manufactured a criminal case.

"Everything in that indictment," he says, referring to the New York case, "everything, collectively and individually, nothing but lies. They want to invent a case."

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO

On the video Chichakli denounces the case against him and also claims that the New York indictment contains a factual error, misstating the date when the UN Security Council listed him as an individual linked to the civil war in Liberia.

The indictment lists March 16, 2004 as the date when Chichakli and Bout were listed as being linked to Charles Taylor's regime in Liberia. UN documents show Bout and Chichakli were sanctioned by the UN on November 30, 2005.

"This US Attorney always tells the truth," says Chichakli, mockingly. "I'm going to show you that he lies. He lies worse than a dog."

Chichakli accuses the U.S. Attorney of perjury, and holds up a copy of the indictment, on which he has marked alleged mistakes in bright red pen.

"It is either this man is on drugs or lying or falsifying records," insists Chichakli. "They decided to change the dates."

Chichakli is presumably referring to U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, though he doesn't name him.

If you cannot see this, you cannot see anything," says Chichakli to his on-line audience. "I wish you a good day. There will be plenty more coming up.

Chichakli, a former U.S. Army officer, says he became acquainted with Bout while working in the United Arab Emirates, but denies ever working for Bout's businesses as a manager.

Contacted by ABC News, Chichakli's U.S. attorney, Clay Scott, declined to address the specifics of the recently unsealed indictment. Scott did say that the allegation that Chichakli served as Bout's Chief Financial Officer is false. "I know that can't be true," said Scott. "It doesn't seem right."

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