– A man extradited from Australia to the US will represent himself on charges he conspired with a notorious Russian arms dealer to buy planes to move weapons.
At a pre-trial conference in New York on Thursday, Syrian-born Richard Chichakli told US District Judge William Pauley he would represent himself at his November trial.
The 53-year-old is accused of conspiring with arms dealers including former Soviet air officer Viktor Bout, dubbed the Merchant of Death.
Mr Chichakli, a US citizen, had been living in Melbourne under an alias.
He worked as a cleaner for almost three years before authorities arrested him in January.
When he attempted to apply for a job as a Protective Services Officer, a fingerprint check connected him to an Interpol red alert.
On Thursday, the judge warned Mr Chichakli it was unwise for him to represent himself. But Mr Chichakli said he preferred it, even after agreeing to the judge’s request that he consult lawyers about it.
He told the judge he had two doctorates, four master’s degrees and nine bachelor’s degrees.
“I’m a highly educated person,” he said.
“I am the best fit to address this court about questions accusing me.”
He said his lawyer seemed too nice. “I am here for my life,” he said.
Mr Chichakli repeated his claim that he had served in the US Army.
In a 2010 interview in Moscow, Mr Chichakli said the US criminal case against Bout was based on “lies” and questioned whether justice was possible in the US.
“The US made in this case for one simple reason,” he said at the time. “To get to Viktor Bout.”
Mr Chichakli said then that he had “never done business with Viktor Bout”.
An indictment accuses Mr Chichakli and Bout of violating sanctions by arranging to buy two Boeing aircraft from US companies in 2007. It says they electronically transferred more than $1.7 million through banks in New York.
The money was blocked by the US Treasury Department before it reached the aviation companies’ accounts.
Prosecutors say that Mr Chichakli worked closely with Bout since at least the mid-1990s to assemble a fleet of cargo planes to ship weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America and the Middle East.
Prosecutors say the arms have helped fuel conflicts and support regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Sudan.
Bout is serving 25 years in prison after he was convicted of conspiracy charges relating to the support of a Colombian terrorist organisation.
He maintains that he was simply a legitimate businessman.
Bout was dubbed the Merchant of Death because of his 1990s-era notoriety for running a fleet of ageing Soviet-era cargo planes to conflict-ridden hotspots on the African continent.
He inspired the arms dealer character played by Nicolas Cage in the 2005 film Lord of War – AP/AAP


About Jumpin' Jack Cash
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