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Associate to arms dealer Viktor Bout gets 5 years in prison on conspiracy, wire fraud charges

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NEW YORK — A Syrian associate of international arms dealer Viktor Bout who served in the U.S. Army was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison on conspiracy and wire fraud charges.

U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III sentenced Richard Chichakli below sentencing guidelines that called for seven to nine years, noting his medical problems, his military service and his claims that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his time as a soldier and of his childhood. Chichakli was also ordered to forfeit $1.7 million and pay $70,000 in restitution.

A year ago, a Manhattan jury found that he tried to illegally buy two airplanes to transport weapons to international war zones. Chichakli had been extradited to the United States from Australia, where he was arrested in January 2013.

Before he was sentenced, the 55-year-old Chichakli said: "It's not like me to beg for mercy. I cannot do that. I beg for humanity."

Pauley said Chichakli's time in custody had failed to clarify exactly who he is.

"Mr. Chichakli continues to remain shrouded in mystery," the judge said, noting that his passports were "so filled with immigration stamps that they looked like a sheet of Rachmaninoff?'s music."

The judge noted that Chichakli had considerable intelligence and had done a credible job of representing himself at trial.

"With all his talents, he still has a warped sense of right and wrong," he said. "It's hard to figure out how he keeps up with all the fictions he created in this case."

The judge noted that Chichakli had become "involved with Viktor Bout, a notorious arms dealer" and had told the jury that Bout was his friend.

Bout is serving 25 years for a 2011 conviction on charges he conspired to sell millions of dollars of weapons to rebels in Colombia. Prosecutors said Chichakli once helped Bout manage a network of aircraft companies.

Chichakli said in 2010 he had never worked for Bout though they discussed business deals that never came to fruition. Pauley said the case against Chichakli wasn't connected to the charges that resulted in Bout's conviction.

In a release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Chichakli "illegally tried to conceal his own identity and the involvement in the transactions of international arms trafficker Viktor Bout. Now Richard Chichakli will again be engaged in the same enterprise as Viktor Bout: serving time in a federal prison."

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