Voz media US Voz.us

FBI searches plane held in Argentina in anti-terrorist operation

Justice believes that the pilot of the aircraft may be part of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Captura de video (AFP)

The Argentine courts ordered the seizure of the Venezuelan-Iranian aircraft detained since June at Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires, Argentina. The United States had requested a few days ago the seizure of the plane on suspicion that the aircraft may have been part of operations linked to terrorism. The FBI subsequently searched the aircraft , official sources said.

The detained aircraft is a Boeing 747, which was owned by the Iranian company Mahan Air and currently belongs to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos. Both companies are sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department.

The aircraft has been held since June

The aircraft arrived in Argentina from Mexico, with a stopover in Venezuela, and had passed through Paraguay and Uruguay, where it was banned from landing. The Argentine courts are awaiting responses from these countries to obtain more information on the situation of the aircraft in terms of cargo and crew members.

The federal judge Federico Villena, who is in charge of handling the case, reported that the aircraft had a crew of 15 Venezuelans and 5 Iranians whose passports were withdrawn. Some of them are still being held in the country: the pilot Gholamreza Ghasemi, and three Venezuelans: Víctor Pérez Gómez, Mario Arraga Urdaneta and José García Contreras, about whom there is concrete evidence. Villena allowed the other twelve crew members to leave the country, although the measure has not yet become effective because it was appealed by a prosecutor, who had already opined in favor of maintaining the restriction until the pending tests are completed.

The most compromising situation within the investigation is that of the pilot, whose name is the same as that of a member of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard with a long history of supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah, according to the judge's report.

U.S. intervention

The District Court for the District of Columbia Court requested the seizure of the aircraft because, in their view, "the aircraft is subject to forfeiture based on violations of U.S. export control laws related to the unauthorized transfer of Mahan Air's aircraft." In addition, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued in 2008 "a denial order prohibiting Mahan Air from engaging in any transaction involving any product exported from the United States."

The U.S. authorities explain that the aircraft was manufactured in U.S. territory and therefore there should have been a U.S. authorization for the sale and use of Mahan Air's Boeing 747-300M to Conviasa. A few days ago, it was published a letter in which Republican senators asked the Attorney General of that country, Merrick B. Garland, to "respond and help Argentina."

Furthermore, the Court notes that additional violations of the control laws occurred when Emtrasur used the aircraft to travel to Caracas, Tehran and Moscow. These were some of the declared routes flown by the aircraft this year.

Villena accepted the order of the District Court of the District of Columbia, and thus decided that the aircraft will remain at the disposal of his court and the federal judge based in Washington, DC, Michael Harvey. He made the decision hours after the prosecutor Cecilia Incardona supported the U.S. request, so the Boeing 747 of the Emtrasur airline will remain stranded at Ezeiza, despite the claims of the government of Nicolás Maduro.