For Immediate Release: January 10, 2013
Washington, DC – Human Rights First welcomes today’s announcement of the arrest of Richard Chichakli, a dual U.S. and Syrian citizen, as a co-conspirator of convicted international arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Human Rights First and the Conflict Awareness Project (CAP) call upon the U.S. government to address the critical gaps in U.S. monitoring and control that created a permissible environment for Viktor Bout and co-conspirators to violate U.S. law.
“Perpetrators of mass atrocities rely on brokers like Chichakli and Bout to provide material resources necessary to commit their heinous crimes. They are their lifeline,” said Human Rights First’s Sadia Hameed. “This arrest sends a clear and welcome message that the U.S government will not tolerate the actions of atrocity enablers. It is our hope that this kind of targeted action is just the beginning and that the U.S. government will continue to systematically undertake such actions to disrupt other similar actors who are still at play.”
These third party enablers present a direct and critical threat to U.S national security interests. Their provision of weapons and resources further destabilize volatile conflict zones and directly facilitate atrocities in those contexts.
Australian authorities arrested Chichakli on Wednesday in Melbourne on an outstanding U.S. warrant for money laundering, wire fraud, and conspiracy charges. The U.S. indictment against Chichakli was disclosed in February 2010, and if convicted, the nine counts could lead to a total of 20 years in prison.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Chichakli consorted with Viktor Bout to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States that would be used to transport weapons to some of the world’s bloodiest conflict zones. These actions violate U.S. sanctions, imposed under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, prohibiting such financial transactions because of their threat to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.
“The arrest is a good opportunity to highlight the key role played by arms traffickers who for far too long have evaded accountability as third party enablers of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Kathi Lynn Austin, Executive Director of CAP and Human Rights First’s Expert Consultant. “This action indicates the U.S. is willing to prioritize and channel resources into atrocity prevention by pursuing transnational criminal operators that logistically support and supply perpetrators in places like Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan.”
Human Rights First and Ms. Austin assert that the Richard Chichakli case mirrors a similar situation crying out for immediate U.S. action. Last August, the Conflict Awareness Project released a report: Viktor Bout’s Gunrunning Successors: A Lethal Game of Catch Me if You Can. The report illuminated how another Viktor Bout associate, Sergei Denisenko, attempted to purchase U.S. aircraft and employ U.S. licensed pilots for a potential gunrunning operation through front companies, likewise in violation of U.S. law.
“The Chichakli arrest represents a welcome shift in U.S. policy that should be built upon,” said Ms. Austin. “It illustrates the usefulness of pursuing atrocity enablers and individuals threatening U.S. national security threats for transnational crimes such as money laundering and fraud.”