By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In April 2005, federal agents with guns drawn stormed Chichakli's modest brick home, informing him that they had permission to search the house (See "Secret Justice," by Jesse Hyde, December 21). At the same time, treasury agents were raiding his office on Central Expressway, where, according to Chichakli, they seized more than $500,000 in valuables, including a boxful of diamonds and a stack of $1,000 bills.
The raid was the result of a July 2004 executive order signed by President Bush that imposed economic sanctions against those who were contributing to the chaos and unrest in Liberia, including Victor Bout, a Russian who is widely considered the world's most notorious arms dealer.
Chichakli, who is of Syrian descent, once considered Bout a friend and worked with him as an accountant. While Chichakli maintains he never had anything to do with Bout's alleged arms trafficking, evidence gathered by the U.S. government says otherwise.
Since his assets were frozen, Chichakli has been living in exile, first in Syria and now in Moscow. For the last two-plus years, Chichakli has been in a legal battle with the U.S. government to clear his name and return to America, where his wife and teenage son still live.
But last month, those hopes were dashed when U.S. District Judge David Godbey dismissed Chichakli's claims that his constitutional rights were violated when federal agents raided his home and office and subsequently froze his assets.
Despite the ruling, Chichakli continues to insist that he hasn't been given a fair shake. "The majority of the media [are] assuming that my case was tried in a court of law, by a jury of my peers and where evidence [is] presented and reviewed prior to rendering judgment," Chichakli says.
But this wasn't the case.
Instead, Chichakli says a judgment was handed down even though his attorney was never seen by the judge or allowed to present evidence in his behalf. He also says Godbey didn't ask a single question of the government legal team that presented the case against Chichakli, a case they described as "highly complicated."
"It seems that all the highly complicated matters as the government described became so crystal clear to Judge Godbey without the need to see evidence or listen to an argument given by the person who filed the case," Chichakli says. "I think nowadays...cases are getting to be selectively treated either as a case for the court or a case for the back door of the court."
The Office of Foreign Assets Control, a division of the U.S. Treasury which is handling the case against Chichakli, has denied all requests for comment.