NEW YORK: A US-Syrian citizen was convicted Friday of conspiring with Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to purchase commercial aircraft in violation of American sanctions.
A federal jury in New York found Richard Ammar Chichakli guilty of one count of violating US sanctions, one count of money laundering conspiracy, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud.
Chichakli, who was arrested in Australia in January and extradited to the United States in May, faces up to five years in prison on the sanctions count and a maximum of 20 years for each of the other eight counts. He is due to be sentenced on March 14.
Prosecutors say Bout and Chichakli sought to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act by illegally purchasing commercial planes for a company they controlled in the United States and ferrying those aircraft to Tajikistan.
Both men at the time had already been blacklisted by the US Treasury Department, and therefore individuals and businesses in the United States were barred from engaging in financial transactions with them.
Chichakli tried to avoid the sanctions against him by concealing his identity and the fact that he was blacklisted, as well as by covering up Bout's role in the plane transactions.
As part of the scheme, Chichakli was said to have helped make more than $1.7 million in wire transfers from overseas bank accounts to accounts in the United States.
"As the evidence at trial established, Richard Chichakli conspired to violate international sanctions by working to purchase aircraft for and with Viktor Bout, formerly one of the world's most notorious weapons traffickers," US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
"But for the intervention of our law enforcement partners, Chichakli would have played a vital role in furthering Bout's objectives."
"Merchant of death" arms smuggler Bout is serving a 25-year sentence for conspiring to sell a massive arsenal to anti-American guerrillas in Colombia.
His case has raised tensions in already frigid ties between the United States and Russia.
Accused of selling arms to despots and insurgency groups embroiled in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts, he was the inspiration for the weapons smuggler played by Nicolas Cage in "Lord of War" (2005). (AFP)