On Wednesday December 4th, 2013 at approximately 2pm the defendant Richard Chichakli, defending himself pro se called his first witness to the stand. Chichakli’s first witness was OFAC [Office of Foreign Asset Control] specialist attorney Hal Eren. This was one witness more than was called during the entire Viktor Bout trial. Chichakli will call several more witness’ including Tami Loehrs an expert computer forensic analyst, FBI special agent Dennis Brady who is currently a Legal Attache in Nairobi, Kenya and possibly DEA agent William Brown pending judge Pauley’s approval. Richard Chichakli submitted a proffer yesterday afternoon to the judge in regards to special agent Brown whom also testified in the Viktor Bout trial.
Mr. Eren was already introduced to us by name via previous exhibits entered into evidence by the prosecution. Despite several protests and objections to the the judge by the prosecutor’s, Eren’s testimony interrupted the prosecutions case as well as their 16th witness, Christine Siedsma. Ironically Siedsma works as a digital forensic examiner in the DEA labs in Lorton, VA. The prosecutor was not as upset over Eren’s testimony as compared to to the upcoming testimony this morning by the defense’s expert witness Tami Loehrs. The prosecution argued that it was not fair to interrupt their case with their expert witness testifying with an expert witness for the defense. They added that it may be interpreted as being prejudicial. Prosecutor Christian Everdell asked if Loehrs could testify on Monday which would also allow prosecutors more time to prepare their cross-examination. Judge Pauley reminded the prosecutor’s that Chichakli is not the U.S. government with unlimited resources as well as pointing out that Ms. Loehrs only anticipated being in New York for a day plus she had scheduling concerns with another trial.
Hal Eren previously worked for OFAC for approximately seven and a half years and has been in private practice for twenty years with his partner Mr. Pinter. Pinter worked at OFAC for seventeen and a half years, according to Eren making them the most experienced private law firm specializing in OFAC related issues. Eren testified that in his legal opinion that Chichakli did not violate OFAC sanctions because he was acting solely as a broker in an airplane deal that exceeded $1.7 million which funds were frozen by OFAC on April 26 2005 and remained frozen to this day. This airplane transaction is at the heart of the government’s case, alleging that Chichakli violated OFAC sanctions specifically IEEPA laws. Chichakli’s defense is that no other parties nor individuals involved in the airplane transaction were on the OFAC sanction list and since Chichakli alleges that he acted only as a broker between the two parties when he was outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. that he did not violate the law. Eren did testify that in addition to contacting OFAC in defense of Chichakli and the companies involved [Aventura Aviation and Samar Air] that the funds that were frozen in 2005 were not tied to Chichakli in anyway. Eren testified that Chichakli was to be paid a $50,000 brokers fee or finders fee directly by Samar Air and that those monies were separate and segregated from the monies involved in the frozen airplane transaction.
During cross-examination Eren seemed to be an entirely different witness and appeared to completely flip. At one point Ian McGinley one of the prosecutor’s asked Eren did we speak previously about this case and he answered yes, then the McGinley asked him did you in fact tell me that you thought Aventura Aviation was conned by Chichakli. Eren stumbled and bumbled and put it in a more diplomatic phrase saying that he felt that he “wasn’t provided with all the available information.”
During cross-examination Eren was asked do you feel that you were misled, and answered that since being provided with the indictment from the government he felt that he was misled. During Eren’s re-direct by Chichakli he was asked if he thought that the documents and evidence that the government provided was authentic? Eren answered that since it came from the government that he assumed it to be true. The judge took notably exception to this comment. In fact shortly after this temper and emotions were escalating on both sides and the judge called for the mid-afternoon break and dismissed the jury for a short recess. About twenty-five minutes later, a slighter longer break to allow all parties to collect their thoughts and to clam down, the jury re-entered. The judge told the court directing his comments to the jury in a very firm tone that what he heard was “an astonishing statement especially coming from an attorney” referring to Erens comment that he presumed the governments evidence to be true. Judge Pauley told the jury that an indictment is not evidence and is only a legal charge to bring the defendant to trial. Judge Pauley emphasized that “the only assumption is that the defendant Mr. Chichakli is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” The judge then made a comment as to Eren’s bias to the prosecutor’s despite the fact that the defense called the witness.
Please stay tuned for more updates!