The United States Department of Justice asked Argentina to seize the Venezuelan-Iranian plane



The Venezuelan plane held in Ezeiza (REUTERS)
The Venezuelan plane held in Ezeiza (REUTERS)

The Court of the District of Columbia asked to seize the Venezuelan-Iranian plane that has been held in Ezeiza since June 8. This was reported by the United States Ministry of Justice to the Argentine government after a court order was issued on July 19 from that North American district alleging that the ship could be confiscated for having violated local export control laws by unauthorized transfer of the plane from Mahan Air, an airline linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps terrorist group and the Quds Forces, to Emtrasur, the subsidiary cargo airline of Conviasa, the Venezuelan state company.

According to the statement from the US Department of Justice, since 2008 the Department of Commerce renews every year a ban on Mahan Air to get involved in any type of transaction that is related to commodities exported from the United States. That’s why, they allege in the order of the Columbia Court, in October 2021 the Iranian airline violated this prohibition when it took control of Emtrasur without the authorization of the government led by Joe Biden. These violations deepened when between February and May 2022 Emtrasur allowed the ship to fly from Caracas to Tehran and Moscow.

Another of the arguments for the request is what happened in Argentina from June. The investigation of the crew – five Iranians and 14 Venezuelans – revealed that the pilot is a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a member of the board of directors of the Iranian airline Fars Air Qeshm.

Captain Gholamreza Ghasemi, the pilot of the plane stranded in Ezeiza, when he was serving as manager of the NAFT company, later renamed Karun Airlines, subsidiaries of Mahan Air of the conglomerate managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
Captain Gholamreza Ghasemi, the pilot of the plane stranded in Ezeiza, when he was serving as manager of the NAFT company, later renamed Karun Airlines, subsidiaries of Mahan Air of the conglomerate managed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard

In 2011, the US sanctioned Mahan Air for providing material support to the Quds Force and did the same in 2019 with Fars Air Qeshm. In addition, Conviasa, the controlling company of Emtrasur, was sanctioned by OFAC in 2020 and its fleet blocked in 2019. As a result of this, and in accordance with the seizure request, the Department of Commerce denied him EMTRASUR’s export privileges for 180 days, with the possibility of renewal.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and export laws,” said Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division, Matthew G. Olsen. He added: “Working with our partners around the world, we will give no quarter to governments and state-sponsored entities that seek to evade our sanctions and export control regimes in the service of their malign activities.”

In line with this, the federal prosecutor Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia stated: “The seizure of this aircraft demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who seek to violate United States sanctions and export control laws.”

“We will aggressively seek to prevent sanctioned entities from gaining access to, or profiting from, illegally transferring US-made items. Working with our federal and international partners, We will be tireless in our efforts to bring to justice those who violate these sanctions and seize assets where appropriate and lawful.”complete.

For his part, the Assistant Secretary for Export Control of the Office of Commerce of the US Department of Commerce, Industry and Security, Matthew S. Axelrod, said: “Today’s coordinated actions are aimed at the illegal transfer of an aircraft Iranian cargo to a Venezuelan airline and the subsequent operation of that aircraft by the airline in violation of our rules. We will continue to take significant and direct enforcement action against foreign airlines that operate aircraft of US origin in violation of US export controls.”

“This seizure demonstrates the FBI’s persistence in using all of our tools to hold the Iranian government and affiliated individuals and companies accountable when they violate American law.”said FBI Acting Deputy Director for Counterterrorism Kevin Vorndran. He added: “The FBI, together with our international partners, will continue to search for those individuals who contribute to the advancement of Iran’s malign activities and will ensure that they are brought to justice, regardless of where or how they seek to hide.”

Judge Villena highlighted the trips to Damascus (Syria) of the pilot Gholamreza Ghasemi (in the photo on the left)
Judge Villena highlighted the trips to Damascus (Syria) of the pilot Gholamreza Ghasemi (in the photo on the left)

This Monday the federal judge Federico Villena decided to keep in force the ban on leaving the country for 7 of the 19 crew members of the Emtrasur plane. They are four Iranians, including the pilot and co-pilot, and three Venezuelans. In a resolution of almost 300 pages, to which he had access Infobaethe magistrate described the evidence against him, although he has not yet decided whether they will testify as accused. The other 12 crew members (one Iranian and eleven Venezuelans) will be able to return to their countries of origin on regular flights because the situation of the Boeing 747-300 has not yet been defined.

Among the crew members who must stay in the country are the pilot Gholamreza Ghasemi, Abdolbaset Mohammadi, and three Venezuelans: Víctor Pérez Gómez (Operations General Manager), Mario Arraga Urdaneta, and mechanic José Garcia Contreras. About the five of them, the judge held that there are concrete indications.

On the other hand, about two other Iranians, Saeid Vali Zadeh and Mohammad Khosraviragh, there are no specific indications but the judge wants them to stay in the country until the expertise on the telephones and computers is completed.

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