CARACAS, Venezuela — The Argentine government on Thursday officially seized a Venezuelan-Iranian cargo plane held with its crew since June.
An Argentinian federal court approved the petition following an official request from the United States government, fueling accusations that Iranian citizens on the crew may have links to international terrorism. The FBI is about to inspect the plane.
On June 6, the plane now seized, a Boeing 747-300 (registration code YV353) belonging to the Venezuelan company Emtrasur, landed at Ezeiza International Airport in Argentina from Mexico with auto parts in its hold. Emtrasur is a freight company established by Venezuelan socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro via a November 2020 decree to import and export goods between Venezuela and countries in Asia, the Middle East and the United States. Emtrasur operates as a subsidiary of the public airline Conviasa, sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in February 2020.
As infobae reported in June, the freight company Emtrasur operates as a shadow company. It does not have a public phone number or social media presence, unlike the parent company, Conviasa.
On June 8, two days after the plane landed in Argentina, Emtrasur’s Boeing attempted to return to Uruguay to refuel. Uruguay revoked the overflight permit, obliging the plane to return to Argentina. Uruguay’s response prompted Argentine authorities to investigate the plane and its crew, which included 14 Venezuelan nationals and five Iranians.
The investigation focused on the pilot of the plane, Gholamreza Ghasemi, suspected of being part of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a terrorist organization designated by the United States and the official wing of the Iranian Armed Forces. Argentina has accused members of the Quds Force – the international terrorist wing of the IRGC – to be behind the 1994 bombing of the Jewish center of the Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA), the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the South American country and the hemisphere before September 11, 2001.
Argentinian authorities found media on Ghasemi’s phone linked to leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Quds Force, including photos of Mohsen Rezai, one of the individuals suspected of being responsible for the bombing of the AMIA. Argentina published 12 of the 19 crew on August 2. Ghasemi, alongside the rest of the crew – 3 Iranians and 3 Venezuelans – is currently being held in Argentina.
Prior to arriving in Argentina, the plane had flown in May from Caracas, Venezuela to Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, a city near the tri-border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The plane and its Iranian-Venezuelan crew aroused the concern of the Paraguayan authorities, who launched a investigation on their own in June.
Before the communication made to the Ministerio Público ayer a la tarde por parte de un funcionario de la SUBDIRECCION DE SEGURIDAD DE LA AVIACIÓN CIVIL-SAVSEC, DINAC en donde pone en conocimiento distintas realized in el marco de la OPERACIÓN DEL VUELO CARGUERO YV3531 pic.twitter.com/wHxCZWNrFJ
— Fiscalía Paraguay (@MinPublicoPy) June 22, 2022
Following the results of Paraguay’s investigation, the president of that country, Mario Abdo Benítez, claims on June 29 that a significant part of the crew of the plane has links to international terrorism, claiming that “one of them, even, underwent surgery to change his face in Cuba”.
“The Paraguayan intelligence services have done an excellent job in being able to determine the danger of this flight and since Paraguay reported and alerted, investigations could be carried out,” added President Abdo Benítez.
The United States Department of Justice officially demand the seizure of the plane on August 2, declaring that the Boeing plane originally belonged to Iranian Mahan Air, which transferred it to Emtrasur, an act which constitutes a violation of American sanctions imposed on the airline Iranian since 2008. The Ministry of Justice also claimed that Mahan Air is affiliated with the IRGC.
Maduro responded to the incident by throwing a tantrum on live television on Monday.
“We are very angry about what is happening in Argentina, very angry and very outraged by the flight of the plane in Argentina!” Maduro shouted during a mandatory broadcast.
— Monitoreamos (@monitoreamos) August 9, 2022
The Maduro regime immediately organized rallies Tuesday to protest the governments of Argentina and the United States over the seized plane. It’s worth mentioning that these rallies are packed with public sector workers and beneficiaries of Maduro’s donation schemes, meaning attendance is mandatory lest they risk losing their jobs and the donations they depend on.
Venezuela’s National Assembly, seized by the Maduro regime in a fraudulent 2020 election, accused the Argentine government and its left-wing president, Alberto Fernández, to be “puppets” of the United States, claiming that there will be no more negotiations between the socialist regime and the Venezuelan opposition as long as the plane seized will not be returned.
The Venezuelan regime also sent Conviasa workers and Socialist Party members to the Argentinian embassy in Caracas on Thursday to protest, demanding that the plane be sent back to Venezuela.
Trabajadores de Conviasa y diputados del Psuv acudieron a la Embajada de Argentina en Caracas para entregar a documento en el que la devolución de l’avión retained en ese pays desde junio pic.twitter.com/iBn4pqENex
— Manuel Cobela (@mcobela_news) August 11, 2022
“Give up the plane, with its crew,” chanted the demonstrators.
Argentina replied to the tantrums of the socialist regime on Thursday by affirming that the situation of the seized plane “is not a diplomatic incident”.
“We understand that these are expressions of different actors in Venezuelan life, because actors in Argentine life have often had very strong expressions regarding Venezuela, and that does not mean that a diplomatic incident has happened. is produced,” said presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti. , during a press conference.
Christian K. Caruzo is a Venezuelan writer and documents life under socialism. You can follow him on Twitter here.