Accused associate of Russian arms dealer Bout caught in Australia

CANBERRA Fri Jan 11, 2013 5:12am GMT

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CANBERRA (Reuters) - A man accused of being an international fugitive and of being an associate of notorious Russian arms dealer Victor Bout has been arrested in Australia, authorities said on Friday.

Richard Ammar Chichakli, 53, appeared briefly in court in the southern city of Melbourne on Thursday after being identified while applying to become a government security officer, police and judicial officials said.

"The man was found to be a person of interest through a routine background check and was not offered a job," said a Victoria state police spokesman.

He had apparently entered the country using a false identity. Chichakli is said by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to be a close associate of Bout, who is known as the "Merchant of Death".

Chichakli, an accountant and a dual U.S.-Syrian citizen, has been on the run since April 2005 over allegations of money laundering and fraud, as well as attempting to purchase two aircraft to ship weapons for Bout. He denies the accusations.

He is thought to have escaped raids on his home near Dallas by U.S. FBI agents, fleeing first to Syria and then Moscow.

He is charged by U.S. authorities with having been a money man for Bout, said to be the inspiration for the Hollywood film "Lord of War". The movie is about an eastern European arms dealer who sold weapons to coup plotters and despotic regimes from Africa to the Middle East.

Among those said to have bought weapons from the pair was former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, who was sentenced last year to 50 years' jail for crimes against humanity, as well as regimes in Sudan, Libya and Angola.

Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was arrested in Thailand in 2008 and extradited to the United States in 2010.

He was jailed last April for 25 years after being convicted of conspiring to sell weapons to the militant Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to use against U.S. counter-narcotics agents and advisers.

Chichakli faces nine charges in the United States, each carrying a maximum 20-year prison term. A spokesman for the Victorian legal department said Chichakli did not face any charges there.

He did not apply for bail after appearing briefly in the Melbourne Magistrates Court, the spokesman said, and was remanded in custody until next Thursday to allow U.S. authorities to apply for his extradition from Australia.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration administrator Michele Leonhart said in a statement to U.S. media Chichakli had worked with Bout "to ensure they could ship weapons and conduct illicit business around the world".

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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