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Arms dealer Bout's associate agrees to US extradition

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

An alleged associate of notorious jailed international arms dealer Viktor Bout agreed on Thursday to be extradited to the United States, telling an Australian court he was ready to go home.

Richard Ammar Chichakli, who holds both US and Syrian citizenship, told Melbourne Magistrates' Court he was "ready for the extradition" after his arrest in Australia in January at the request of the United States.

"I ask the court to kindly send me home to the US as soon as possible," Chichakli told magistrate Charles Rozencwajg, conceding to the US deportation order.

"I thank Australia for its hospitality. I just need to go home," said Chichakli, also telling the court he intended to protest his innocence.

Bout, who was convicted by a US court in 2011 of conspiring to sell arms to Colombia's FARC rebels, has been accused over the past two decades of selling arms to despots embroiled in some of the world's bloodiest conflicts.

He was the inspiration for the arms smuggler played by Nicolas Cage in "Lord of War" (2005), and has been dubbed the "Merchant of Death". Bout was arrested in Thailand and is now serving a 25-year jail term in the US.

Chichakli, 53, is wanted for conspiring with Bout in 2007 to try to purchase two aircraft from companies located in the US and use them to ship arms, in violation of an order banning them from doing business in America.

The executive order, imposed in line with UN sanctions, stemmed from their links with former Liberian president Charles Taylor, convicted of war crimes for supporting rebels in Sierra Leone in exchange for blood diamonds.

Chichakli is also charged with money laundering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and six counts of wire fraud in connection with the attempted aircraft purchases -- nine charges in total.

He came to the attention of Australian authorities during routine background checks after he applied for a job with Victoria state's police force.

"Of course I deny all of them, but this is for the court of the US to try," Chichakli said of the charges against him, each of which carries a maximum 20-year jail term.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130404/arms-dealer-bouts-associate-agrees-us-extradition