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In 1986 Chichakli moved to Texas, where he gained U.S. citizenship, and in 1990, at the age of 31, he joined the U.S. Army, where he specialized in aviation, interrogation and intelligence. He also became an expert with a grenade launcher.
After his army service, Chichakli returned to the Middle East, where he became the commercial manager of the Sharjah Free Zones Authority in the United Arab Emirates (the U.A.E. has set up a number of free trade zones to give businesses an incentive to move there. Companies that operate in a free trade zone pay no tax and are exempt from customs and other fees).
While there, Chichakli met Bout, who had based his operations there. Chichakli has previously said the two became business partners during this time, but he now says they were just friends. As manager of the free zone, Chichakli reviewed business reports that Bout was required to periodically submit. He says his knowledge of Bout's business came from these reports, submitted between 1995 and 1996, and that nothing he saw during this time indicated that Bout was an arms trafficker.
In 1998, Chichakli says, Bout approached him to help him take a number of his companies public. Again, he says he saw nothing in Bout's business dealings that caused alarm. "Furthermore, his CPAs and lawyers were also involved, and their reports did not indicate the presence of any questionable activities except 'bad management,'" Chichakli says.
There is ample evidence, however, that Bout is an arms trafficker. U.S. spy satellites have captured Bout's cargo planes in war zones such as Liberia and the Congo. According to a 2004 U.N. report, Chichakli held key positions in several Bout-controlled companies, including one that was registered in Richardson. This company, called SanAir, was used between 2000 and 2001 to ferry weapons to war criminal Charles Taylor and his ragtag band of Liberian child soldiers, according to the report.
But Chichakli says this report, written by Johan Peleman of Belgium, is full of fabrications and exaggerations. Peleman is out to get Bout, Chichakli says, because the two once did business together and their relationship soured. In fact, Bout once carried U.N. peacekeepers to East Timor at Peleman's request.
"The man in 2000 said Victor was an arms dealer, that same year he gave Victor a contract to fly U.N. peacekeepers to East Timor," Chichakli says. "I mean if you know this guy is a son-of-a-bitch arms dealer, why in the hell would you give him a contract to transport United Nations personnel? I think [Bout] is being used to cover for the real deal."
Chichakli says he and Bout are no longer friends and that they haven't talked in months. Bout is rumored to be living in Moscow in a luxury apartment. Chichakli initially moved to Moscow after the raid, but he is now living in Syria, hoping that he will one day be able to return to the United States, the country that he says he loves even though its government has upended his life and ruined his 20-year marriage.
"I am a firm believer in the U.S. justice system, and by volunteering to serve as a soldier in the U.S. Army more than 15 years ago, I have already proven that I am a patriot and willing to place my life on the line for my belief in the United States," he says. "All I am asking for is due process guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Take me to court, that's all I'm asking."
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