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Washington (AFP) Jan 10, 2013
The United States announced Thursday that Australian police have arrested an alleged associate of the notorious jailed international arms trafficker Viktor Bout.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration said Richard Ammar Chichakli was arrested on Wednesday in Australia at the request of US authorities.
Bout, who was convicted by a US court in 2011 of conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's FARC rebels, has been accused over the past two decades of selling arms to despots embroiled in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts.
He was the inspiration for the arms smuggler played by Nicolas Cage in "Lord of War" (2005), and has been dubbed the "Merchant of Death."
His alleged associate Chichakli, who holds both Syrian and US citizenship, is charged with conspiring with Bout to try to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the United States and use them to ship arms.
This is alleged to have happened in 2007, a year before Bout's arrest in Thailand. Bout is now serving a 25-year jail term in the US.
Buying the planes would have violated a US executive order imposed first against Bout, and later against Chichakli, banning them from carrying out any transactions within the US.
The order, imposed in line with UN sanctions, stems from their links with former Liberian president Charles Taylor, convicted of war crimes last year for supporting for rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for blood diamonds.
Chichakli is also charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud in connection with the attempted aircraft purchase.
"As alleged, Richard Ammar Chichakli consorted with the world's most notorious arms trafficker in the purchase of aircraft that would be used to transport weapons to some of the world's bloodiest conflict zones, in violation of international sanctions," Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement issued by the DEA.
All told, Chichakli faces nine criminal counts, each carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
Police in the Australia confirmed that a 53-year-old man had been arrested after he applied for a position with local police.
"He was identified as a person of interest through routine background checks as part of the application procedure," a spokeswoman for the police in the state of Victoria said.
"He had not been offered employment with Victoria Police or started any training," she added.
The spokeswoman would not comment on whether Chichakli had applied under his real name but said stringent background checks were carried out as a matter of course for all applicants to such jobs.
While not police officers, Protective Services Officers or PSOs are employed by Victoria Police and are often deployed to train stations to ensure safety for travelers.
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