US requests seizure of plane held in Argentina

BUENOS AIRES (AP) — The United States asked Argentine authorities Tuesday to seize a cargo plane being held outside Buenos Aires, shortly after a judge investigating an alleged terrorist connection upheld a ban on leaving the country. the South American nation to seven Iranian and Venezuelan crew members.

The US Justice Department made the request after a Washington court issued an order to seize the aircraft on July 19.

“The Justice Department will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and our export laws,” said Matthew Olsen, a national security prosecutor.

A few hours earlier, on Monday night, the Argentine federal judge Federico Villena signed a resolution in which he ordered that the documents of the Iranians Gholamreza Ghasemi -pilot of the aircraft-, Abdolbaset Mohammadim, Mohammad Khosraviaragh and Saeid Vali Zadeh be withheld; and of the Venezuelans Mario Arraga, Víctor Pérez Gómez and José García Contreras, crew members of the Boeing of the Venezuelan state Emtrasur that arrived in Buenos Aires on June 6 arousing suspicions.

The Argentine justice seeks to determine if the occupants of the flight – who are free and housed on the outskirts of Buenos Aires – arrived in the country for commercial purposes or for their alleged connection with international terrorism.

The suspicions about the plane are due in part to the fact that Argentina was the target of two attacks in the 1990s – one against the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires and another against a Jewish community center – for which the justice of the South American nation accused the regime. Iranian. Tehran has always denied the accusations.

In its forfeiture request, the Washington federal court alleges that the Boeing 747-300M has violated export control laws related to the unauthorized transfer of the plane from Mahan Air – an Iranian airline affiliated with a group listed among the organizations that the United States considers terrorist-, and Emtrasur, which is a Venezuelan cargo airline and a subsidiary of the state-owned Consortium of Venezuelan Aeronautical Industries and Air Services (Conviasa).

Since 2008, the US Department of Commerce has issued a temporary order that prohibits Mahan Air from conducting any type of transaction from the United States that is related to goods or raw materials subject to regulations stipulated in the Export Administration Act.

The court order alleges that around October 2021, Mahan Air violated those laws when it transferred custody of the plane to Emtrasur, without authorization from the US government. Later, he would also have violated the regulations by re-exporting the aircraft to Caracas, Tehran and Moscow, without authorization from Washington.

Likewise, Conviasa has been on a list of companies sanctioned by the United States since 2020, and its fleet was blocked in 2019.

A few weeks ago, Pérez Gómez -Emtrasur’s general manager of operations and to whom the Argentine judge denied the return of his passport- denied any link with terrorism in statements to the press and maintained that, in addition to cargo transportation, the flight complied the function of training Venezuelan pilots.

The magistrate, however, expressed his doubts when pointing out that it could be a “screen”, and pointed out that part of the crew could have carried out illegal maneuvers that affect national and regional security.

The aircraft picked up cargo in Mexico for several Argentine auto parts companies and made a stopover in Caracas before arriving in the South American country.

Its crew members are also being investigated in Paraguay, where the plane landed in Ciudad del Este in May and then left to transport cigarettes to Aruba.

The judge considered that this flight is “striking” and considered that the investigation into it must be deepened, as requested by the prosecutor of the case and the complaint.

Venezuela claims for its part the return of the aircraft.


Salomon reported from Miami.

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