Richard Chichakli, an associate of convicted international arms dealer Viktor Bout, was granted permission by a judge to act as his own attorney against charges that he conspired to violate U.S. export restrictions.
Chichakli is accused of conspiring with Bout to purchase aircraft made in America in violation of U.S. economic sanctions. The men were barred from purchasing the aircraft because the U.S. Treasury found they were associated with former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the U.S. alleges in the indictment.
Chichakli, who said he was once in the U.S. Army, told U.S. District Judge William Pauley that while he thought defense lawyer Marlon Kirton was “very nice,” he insisted he was in a better position to defend himself at a trial set to begin in November.
“I am ready for this yesterday, I’m ready for my day in court” said Chichakli, who told the judge he has two doctorates, four master’s degrees, two master of business administration degrees and nine bachelor’s degrees.
He is facing nine counts, including money laundering and wire fraud conspiracies, violation of the sanctions and six counts of wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum prison term of as long as 20 years. Prosecutors said Chichakli is a citizen of Syria and the U.S.
“I think I might be able to help myself better in this case,” Chichakli said. “I am a soldier. I served in the United States Army for a very long time. I am capable of ‘drive on,’ as we used to say.”
After a brief adjournment so the defendant could consult with Kirton and another lawyer, Pauley warned the defendant about the consequences of acting as his own lawyer and later agreed to appoint Kirton to act as “standby counsel” to aid in his defense.
“I wish to warn you, representing yourself at trial is unwise and in the court’s view you’d be far better represented by an experienced criminal defense attorney,” Pauley said.
Bout, a former Soviet military officer, is serving a 25-year sentence in federal prison.
The case is U.S. v. Chichakli, 09-cr-1002, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)