New Charges Against 'Merchant of Death' Viktor Bout

Bout lived openly in Russia for years but was lured to Thailand by the DEA in March 2008, where he was arrested. A previous U.S. attempt to extradite Bout was rebuffed by Thai authorities, since the original charges against Bout focused on his relationship with FARC, and Thailand does not consider FARC a terrorist group. While in custody in Thailand, Bout has consistently denied the charges against him.

In a statement US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara said, "The United Nations and the United States have long-standing sanctions against Bout that stem from, among other things, his support of the most violent and destabilizing conflicts in recent African history. Until his arrest in March 2008, Bout had found a way to circumvent these sanctions, successfully evading the rule of law."

The new indictment mentions that Bout was in violation of UN Sanctions as far back as 2001 for his dealings with Taylor. These sanctions also covered Chichakli after 2005. Chichakli had not been charged previously but had had his assets seized and frozen by the US Treasury for his alleged connections with Bout.

The indictment alleges that in 2004 "Bout and Chichakli took steps to form new aviation and other companies, and took specific steps to register these companies in the name of other individuals….the defendants, created and registered Samar Airlines, which purported to be a commercial airline and a passenger and cargo aircraft charter service based in the Republic of Tajikistan."

The money-laundering charges in the indictment allege that Bout and Chichakli attempted to buy Boeing 727s for Samar airlines from a Florida aviation firm and that money from shell companies controlled by Bout were transferred to Samar accounts "in order to protect Bout's assets." The indictment alleges that money transfers for Samar flowed from bank accounts in Cyprus linked to Bout through an entity called Wartrex Holdings Limited to a bank in New York, as well as funds coming from Kazakhstan to accounts in Salt Lake City Utah for the Florida aviation company. The wire fraud charges list 6 specific wire transfers in 2007 ranging between $52,000 to $339,977.

The UN Security Council passed 11 resolutions between 2001-2004 to express concern about the growing conflict and arms trade in Liberia. US officials may cite the UN violations in an effort to put pressure on Russia to allow Bout and Chichakli to be extradited to the US to face trial. Bout's arrest and detention has created friction between the U.S. and Russian governments. Russia has expressed interest in bringing Bout back home -- for his protection, it is widely believed, rather than his prosecution.

Chichakli, a U.S. citizen who once lived in Richardson, Texas, has been on the run since shortly after April 2005, when agents from the FBI and Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control raided his home. They seized his assets and business records, which allegedly showed that Bout moved money through the US 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 he later moved since he was unable to access his bank accounts.

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