Australia holds arms dealer Viktor Bout's 'accomplice'

Richard Chichakli, pictured in 2010 in a YouTube video
Image caption Richard Chichakli has repeatedly denied working for Viktor Bout

An alleged business partner of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has been arrested in Australia after he applied for a government job, officials say.

The US requested the arrest of Richard Ammar Chichakli, a Syria-born American, who has been on the run since 2005.

Mr Chichakli, who faces 20 years in jail in the US, is accused of being Bout's chief financial manager.

He has repeatedly denied the allegations, saying he never worked for the convicted arms dealer.

US agents captured Bout, an ex-Soviet officer, in a 2008 sting operation in Thailand. He was jailed for 25 years last April.

Mr Chichakli, 53, who apparently entered Australia using fake documents, was captured after applying for a job as an armed guard.

"The man was found to be a person of interest through a routine background check, and was not offered a job," said a Victoria state police spokesman.

'Merchant of death'

The US Drug Enforcement Administration announced Mr Chichakli's arrest in a statement late on Thursday.

"The international law-enforcement community has long recognised Richard Chichakli as a key criminal facilitator in Viktor Bout's global weapons trafficking regime and his arrest means the world is safer and more secure," said DEA administrator Michele Leonhart.

Image caption Viktor Bout is thought to have close contacts in the Kremlin

Mr Chichakli, a trained accountant, is accused of trying to buy planes that would have been used to transport weapons.

He is also accused of several counts of money-laundering, fraud and conspiracy.

The DEA said Mr Chichakli faced a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on each of the nine counts if convicted.

He has been subject to UN sanctions and asset freezes for years, and reportedly narrowly avoided arrest in Dallas several years ago.

Bout's capture in 2008 provoked a storm of controversy.

DEA agents posed as buyers for Colombia's Farc militant group and arranged a meeting with Bout in Thailand.

He agreed to sell them weapons, and was then arrested.

After a protracted legal wrangle and angry protests by the Russian authorities, he was eventually extradited to the US and jailed.

Bout was the inspiration for the main character in the 2005 Hollywood film Lord of War.

A UK politician dubbed him the "merchant of death".

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