Inside the Courtroom
So far his case definitely has not attracted the attention of the press as well as the media frenzy that was present during Viktor Bout’s trial. Bout’s trial was packed as well as having an overflow room available where press, Federal employees and the general public could watch the trial via a CCTV. Inside the courtroom there were myself, a Reuter’s representative and several Russian journalists. We could have easily fit on one row but for comfort decided to spread out.
Inside courtroom 20 B Chichakli wore a dark grey suit and hung off him slightly due to a smaller frame caused by weight loss over the last several months. Ironically Bout’s trial was held directly across the hall in courtroom 20 A. One of the lead DEA agents from the Viktor Bout sting operation dubbed Operation Relentless that lead to Bout’s capture in Thailand sat in the back of the courtroom watching the trial intensely. Several other DEA agents popped in briefly during the trail. Those same three agents were present during the majority of Bout’s three week long trial. After a short delay due to a late juror [the judge expressed his displeasure to those in the courtroom] the trial was underway. The presiding judge in this case is the Honorable William H. Pauley III. He is very tall and looks to be average build to thin and wears a closely cropped beard. Being in the courtroom during some of Chichakli’s hearings, it was evident that Judge Pauley III has a good sense of humor, is extremely patient. After sitting through the entire day in court yesterday, the judge came across as extremely fair is this odd case where Chichakli is representing himself also known as pro se.
The case is U.S.A. v. Bout et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 09-1002. The Syrian born naturalized U.S. citizen, Richard Ammar Chichakli falls under the “et al”. After spending nearly 11 combined months in prison from the time he was arrested in Australia until now, he finally has his day in court. Once arrested in January 2013 he was finally extradited to the U.S. in May of this year. According to Chichakli in correspondence between us, he was bounced around quite a bit between prisons and even within prisons. You can read more in my interview with Chichakli, World Exclusive: Richard Chichakli’s First Interview Since His Extradition From Australia To A U.S. Prison.
Due to time constraints I am going to take the following excerpts from a Reuters article titled, U.S. trial begins for Russian arms dealer’s accused conspirator written by Joseph Ax:
A U.S.-Syrian citizen conspired with convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to buy aircraft, using fake names to get around sanctions that had been imposed against him, a government prosecutor told a jury on Wednesday in New York federal court.
Richard Chichakli deceived a Florida aviation company in an effort to sidestep a presidential executive order prohibiting him from conducting any transactions with U.S. businesses, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Everdale said at the start of Chichakli’s criminal trial.
“The defendant deceived legitimate business people in the United States; he violated the sanctions against him,” Everdale said. “And he did it for money.”
Chichakli, representing himself, told the court the government had concocted a false story about him because of his ties to Bout, known as the “Merchant of Death” for his purported willingness to ship arms to anyone who could pay him.
“It’s your job to try to separate the facts from the fiction,” Chichakli told the jurors. “A whole lot of this story is fiction.”
Towards the end of Chichakli’s opening statement he mentioned to the jury that you will hear a man by the name of Viktor Bout. He then added that he was the only person in the world that asked the U.S. government why they were targeting Bout and how he remained friends with Viktor Bout since they first met in 1995.
Molly Miller from the Office of Foreign Assets Control [OFAC] was a witness for the prosecutor as well as Michael Anthony Bachtel [not sure of the spelling of his last name] a DHS / ICE agent. The DHS agent interviewed Chichakli along with FBI agent Dennis Brady in April 2005. Chichakli having no legal experience or background and by his own admission being a Certified Public Accountant and aviation expert held his on in the court room. I would have to say that for a novice representing themselves and cross examining Molly Miller from OFAC and a DHS / ICE agent he was very impressive. There were little nuances and procedural mistakes made along the way but his questions and strategy were impressive. In fact, he did better than some lawyers that I have watched in other trials.
During his cross-examinations, Chichakli tried to hammer home the point that if someone is under OFAC sanctions like he was after 2005, that you can not even buy a hamburger from McDonald’s legally in this country. His point was that you have to apply for individual licenses to get access to your own blocked money. Chichakli then demonstrated that sometimes these licenses take many months as well as having OFAC representative Miller admit that the license approval process is discretionary.
In terms of the DHS / ICE agent, Chichakli got him to say in court that an investigation that begun in 2003 and did not formally end until 2012 ended in no charges being bought against him. Chichakli also mentioned all the accusations in the ‘affidavit’ that the government used to apply for a search warrant [which was granted] ended in no charges filed against him. If you look at the case name, U.S.A. v. Bout et al U.S.A. v. Bout et al as well as Chichakli’s opening statement as well as his strategy in his cross-examination of the witness’, he seems to be hammering home to the jury the ‘guilty by association’ scenario. Chichakli appears to be saying that since he was friends with and has remained friends with Viktor Bout, which he stated several times is a strictly political case, thus because of this association he claims he was targeted by the U.S. government and that they ‘dismantled my life’.
From where I am sitting, this trial like the curious case of Viktor Bout will not be dull. It will be full of interesting twists and turns. If I was a bookie, I wouldn’t want to lay odds on the outcome of this case, stay-tuned for more updates.