Bail denied for Richard Chichakli: Inside The Court Room during The Hearing
Chichakli Extradition Pending
Richard Chichakli now 53 years-old has been held in solitary confinement in an Australian prison since last month and he is currently awaiting possible extradition to the United States. Chichakli is facing charges in a joint indictment in the U.S. over his alleged involvement with Viktor Bout who’s been jailed in the U.S. for 25 years convicted on conspiracy charges. Despite Viktor Bout’s harsh sentence he has strongly maintained his innocence and Chichakli denies working for Bout but proudly boasts of their friendship.
According to an article titeled, Police say man wanted in US had 16 aliases:
The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have identified 16 aliases for the Syrian-born Chichakli. But lawyers for Chichakli have argued some of the aliases was similar and merely represented cases where his name has been misspelt. Victor Lewis from the AFP told court Chichakli has primarily used the name of Jehad Almustafa for bank accounts, his drivers licence and for travel in and out of Australia.
His lawyers say that his only offence in Australia has been operating under that false identity. Chichakli’s lawyers also argued that his case is complex and need more time than the contraints they are currently working with. My understanding of the Australian law in regards to Chichakli’s extradition to the U.S. is that the Aussie government has 60 days from his arrest. Chichakli was arrested on 10 January 2013 thus the clock is ticking therefore the US authorities have until March 11 to apply for his extradition.
Mrs. Chichakli’s Prison Visit
Slighty over a week ago I wrote an article titled, World Exclusive: Richard Chichakli: “Australian Prison Is Trying To Poison Me” in which Chichakli’s wife described her husbands abuse and mistreatment in the Aussie prison. Since I wrote that piece she has been able to have her first visit with her husband Richard, however, it was a non-contact visit. This is what Mrs. Chichakli wrote me:
I got a call on Wednesday morning from Ops Manager of MRC Mrs. Smith, she confirmed that I was placed on the list of visitors for non-contact visits only. I can visit Richard once a week and talk to him for 30 mins through a glass wall. I asked to see him the same day.
I heard the clicking sound of shackles being removed before Richard entered the visitors’ room. His face was very pale and skinny. It was very difficult to look at him and keep myself calm–he has lost so much weight since the last time I had seen him, he didn’t look healthy.
Chichakli’s Defense Attorney Silenced
Initially I thought it was strange that Chichakli’s legal defense team had no reply to my queries as to their clients health, treatment and prison conditions. Then Mrs. Chichakli told me they went not allowed to have any contact with the media. Mrs. Chichakli wrote:
I am in communication with Richard’s lawyer and he’s attends all of my enquiries with urgency. Mr. Sim is aware of my concerns about Richard’s health. With respect to bringing Richard’s matter to public domain, they are not allowed, as I was told, to communicate with media.
Later that day I received an official notification from Richard Chichakli’s legal defense team basically telling me the same thing. They said by law they are not permitted to speak to the press or any media while the case is ongoing.
The judge just hours ago denied Richard Chichakli bail. The reason was that since he allegedly used many alliases as well as traveled frequently in and out of the country — thus maikng him a flight risk.
Inside The Court Room
Before Richard Chichakli’s bail was denied, Mrs. Chichakli gave me a very detailed look inside the court room during the actual hearing. Unfortunately due to unavoidable travel, I was not able to post her comments sooner. In retrospect, now knowing the outcome, it makes Mrs. Chichakli’s observations, insights and intuitions that much more revealing. Here is her description in her own words inside the court room:
Dear Mr. Mapp:
I’d like to send you my observations from the bail hearing that took place on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.
The court was supposed to start at 9:30, but due to Australia Federal Police officer’s Viktor Lewis submitting a sworn affidavit right before the court, the proceedings were delayed until 10:30.
Richard’s attorneys Mr. Marsh and Mr. Sim were well prepared for the hearing with strong arguments in Richard’s favor and confidently refuted every concern of the prosecutor Ms. Folie in connections with establishing that special circumstances exist in Richard’s case and that he does not pose a flight risk.
At first, AFP’s Mr. Lewis who was involved in Richard’s arrest and has been examining seized property for almost a month now, was called to give a testimony under oath.
Barrister Marsh enquired on what basis did AFP compile such a long list of aliases (about 16 names) allegedly used by Richard to be included in the search warrant. Mr. Lewis’s response was that the United States has supplied AFP with the list of names.
Mr. Lewis has confirmed that the identity used by Richard in Australia was Jehad Almustafa.
When Mr. Lewis was asked whether the police has found any evidence of Richard using other identity, in particular the names of “Robert Cunning, Raman Cedorov, Abdullah Al Subait, and Andrey Romanov” Mr. Lewis said that there’s no evidence supporting such statement.
Mr. Marsh then referred to the remaining names of the list, which were different variations of Richard Ammar Chichakli, about 10 of them. He asked Mr. Lewis if it was possible that some were just misspelled variations, such as Chichalki (misspelled) vs. Chichakli (correct), and whether ‘Chichakli Richard A.’ and ‘Chichakli Richard Ammar’ are essentially the same. He received a confirmation from Mr. Lewis that that could be possible.
He also enquired with Mr. Lewis whether his own first name has ever been misspelled with a ‘c’ instead of ‘k’ in Viktor. The officer said that a few times he received correspondence addressed to him with such a mistake. Mr. Marsh then enquired that maybe ‘sh’ and ‘ch’ could also be interchangeable as they represent the same sound in Arabic. Thus “Chichakli” and “Shishakli” are also the same names, only misspelled.
“Do you know,”- Mr. Marsh enquired,-”that Richard’s birth name was Ammar M. Chichakli and that he legally changed it to Richard A. Chichakli when he moved to the United States?” “Would that be an explanation for another variation on the list?
Mr. Lewis stated that upon Richard’s arrest an equivalent of about $2500 in multiple currencies, including euros, and this significant amount of cash was indicative of Richard’s preparedness to flee the country. Mr. Marsh enquired that maybe instead this money was left over from Richard’s recent trip to Europe, and posed a question of how much it would possibly cost to obtain a false id? Mr. Lewis’ answer was ‘tens of thousands of dollars’. With Richard’s combined cash assets (cash in the wallet and at the bank) amounting to AU$5000, an old Renault-made car and Holden Viva in his name, with bank cards seized by police and no access to frozen funds, it was not likely that a false id can be obtained. Mr. Lewis tried to allege otherwise, his arguments however were not well supported.
Mr. Marsh also pointed out that Richard is on Interpol red alert list, and asked Mr. Lewis to clarify what that means– other countries would be alerted when the person being sought crosses the border.
Richard has significant presence on the Internet with various photos published and it would be very difficult to hide.
With respect to Richard’s character, Mr. Marsh said that the only offense in Australia was Richard’s entering and continuing to live under different name. Richard has actively sought employment, went to school, committed no crime except for perpetuity of his false identity, and just lived a normal life.
Then Mr. Brendan Money was called for testimony. He is an Assistant Commissioner for Sentencing, who is responsible for security classification. Mr. Money returned from his leave on January 30 and met with Richard on that day (after 20 days have passed since Richard’s incarceration in maximum security regime). Mr. Money stated that it was his responsibility to assess the security risk of prisoners, and currently Richard was being treated as ‘high risk’ with all the consequences. Mr. Money assured the judge that he wants to conduct a proper assessment and that it will as much time as required to review all the relevant information within specified time-frame, and up till then Richard will remain in existing condition. Richard is presently held at Exford area for Metropolitan Remand Centre, which as confirmed by Mr. Money, could be called “a prison within prison”. Richard stays all day in solitary, which is 3 by 4 metres in length (*10 by 13 feet), he is shackled to the waist when transported within the prison with only two 1-hr non-contact visits per week allowed since January 30 (none before that). Richard is kept in such conditions for his own safety and security of other prisoners. Mr. Marsh enquired whether anybody has ever escaped from MRC—Mr. Money’s answer was ‘no’, but since Richard is known to access false id’s and guns (*what made him think that?!), Richard has been classified as ‘high risk’. “But MRC is not a point of international departure?”—Mr. Marsh commented.
“If the proceedings are to take 12 months, would Richard still be kept in such conditions?”—Mr. Marsh enquired noting the loss of weight and worsening health of Richard. Mr. Money answered that usually it takes up to 30 days to make a risk assessment and if more time is required, he would need to approve it (* he who decides also approves extension of time to make the decision!?). But at present Richard would continue to stay in maximum security area of the prison. I was also astonished by the statement of the prosecutor citing some legal precedent case where deteriorating health and severe depression of defendant were not considered by the judge as extraordinary circumstances to grant bail. (*Innocent until proven guilty takes form of ‘sick and weak (or dead) before proven guilty’—Richard has lost more than 10 kilos in 3 weeks he’s been in this prison–he’s severely underweight, he looks frail, he’s not allowed to see people, doesn’t have access to standard prison resources, he’s treated like an animal—do you know that they shackle him and transport him in a metal box, guarded by security, when other prisoners are taken by a standard bus!?) Mr. Money said he didn’t notice any change in Richard’s appearance since he first saw him.
I easily get emotional when I see injustice, but I’ll try to keep going.
After the lunch break, the prosecutor made a statement that Mr. Lewis can provide additional evidence that is supplied by the United States, that would back the prosecution. The judge has allowed it, but then when notified by Ms. Folie that it only can be shown to the Judge and not the legal team of Richard, because it’s secret, the judge has declined the request because it would put defense of Richard in unfavorable position.
Mr. Marsh and Mr. Sim indicated that Richard would challenge the legality of extradition under double-criminality, better explained as whether the charges he’s facing would consist crime in Australia. Since this process is complicated and is expected to take time, they appealed to the judge that His Honor should not allow harm to defendant before guilt is established.
Mr. Marsh also pointed out that Richard’s being on the United Nations list does not give rise to an offense. He was free to leave the United States in April 2005 with no charges then or prior, and it had been long after—4.5 years after he left the US—that the charges were filed against Richard in November 2009. Mr. Marsh has indicated that the Executive Order that placed Richard’s name on the list is closely connected to domestic and foreign policy of the United States, as such giving rise to political reasons behind Richard’s case.
The decision about granting the bail will be announced on Thursday, February 7, 2013.