Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Press Releases

A New Indictment for Viktor Bout and His American Accomplice
The U.S. Justice Department today handed down a new indictment against Viktor Bout and his Syrian-American partner Richard Chichakli, alleging the Merchant of Death with laundering money and attempting to buy two aircraft in the Unites States through a series of front companies.

The indictment may add to Bout's legal woes, and certainly is a blow to Chichakli, who has been happily holed in Moscow, with occasional trips to Damascus while using his website to mock the U.S. government, along with you truly and others. The indictment and Interpol alert will likely keep him holed up in Moscow, at least for a while.

Chichakli, who prided himself on his ability to create fetching fruit platters, fled the United States when his assets were frozen by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets control. He used Lufthansa frequent flier miles to purchase his ticket, as he had no money available, and then proceeded on to Syria, before joining Viktor in Moscow.

Bout, of course, is still in a Thai jail, awaiting an appeals court decision on whether he can be extradited to the United States to stand trial for attempts to knowingly sell surface to air missiles and other lethal equipment to undercover agents posing as FARC operatives. Last year a lower court ruled that Bout could not be extradited, and the appeals court ruling will be final.

The charges may be used to try give the Thai court more reason to authorized Bout's extradition to the United States. It will also certainly make Chichakli, who helped Bout set up his operations in the UAE in the 1990s while acting as his accountant, a less mobile figure.

Bout's attempt to buy the aircraft show how mobile his network - which supplied the Taliban in Afghanistan, the FARC in Colombia and other terrorist groups - had become. The indictment alleges Bout and Chichakli wired some $1.7 million through the United States on behalf of a front company named Samar Airlines, to purchase two Boeing aircraft in the United States.

"Viktor Bout was originally charged in March 2008 with conspiring to kill Americans by selling millions of dollars worth of weapons to Colombia-based narco-terrorists. Further investigation has revealed additional criminal activities by Bout including money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy. The additional charges contained in the newly unsealed superseding indictment amply illustrate the extraordinary breadth of Bout's deadly criminal enterprise," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

The move violated the executive order that banned any U.S. company or bank from doing business with Bout. The companies doing business with Bout were not fully identified and the indictment alleges that both Bout and Chichakli hid their involvement in Samar Airlines in order to avoid sanctions.

It is not clear what the aircraft would be used for. Bout's aging fleet of Soviet era aircraft had suffered a series of accidents, where difficult to maintain and costly to keep running. Perhaps that is one of the reasons he was keen to move over to Boeings.

"Viktor Bout allegedly made a career of arming bloody conflicts and supporting rogue regimes across multiple continents, even using the U.S. banking system to secretly finance a private fleet of aircraft. 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. This Office is committed to working with our partners in the United States, at the United Nations, and around the world to bring transnational criminals like Viktor Bout to justice," said U.S. Attorney PREET BHARARA.
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