(CNN Spanish) – Argentine justice is investigating the entry of a Venezuelan-flagged plane and five Iranian nationals who make up its crew, according to documents obtained by CNN.
Federal judge Federico Villina on Monday ordered the crew members’ passports to be retained for 72 hours while he advances investigations into their identities, to determine if there is any link to terrorist organizations. He also ordered a raid on the hotel where they were staying in Buenos Aires to seize documents and electronic devices, Argentine Federal Police spokesmen reported.
The judge decided this after a presentation by the delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA), which requested an investigation into whether those named belonged to the Quds Force, which the United States described as a terrorist group.
Argentina did not include this organization on its list of suspected terrorists. The brigade is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a branch of the Iranian armed forces. Several former high-ranking officials of that country are accused in Argentina of having ordered the attack on the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA) in 1994, the worst terrorist attack in the country’s history.
Argentina’s Minister of Security, Anibal Fernandez, said in a radio interview with the Pervell mediator, that one of the five Iranian nationals temporarily banned from leaving the country bears the name of a member of Jerusalem. The official confirmed that the authorities allowed entry to the 19 crew members (five Iranians and 14 Venezuelans) because there were no alerts or restrictions on any of them. CNN has not yet been able to contact the new crew’s attorneys.
Boeing 747 Dreamliner, Venezuelan registered YV3531, has been operating at Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires Province, since June 8. Anibal Fernandez told Perville that the plane is owned by Venezuela’s state-run company Emtrasur and was recently purchased from Iranian airline Mahan Air. Amir Hossein Zul Anvari, director of the public relations office in Mahan, told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) that the plane was sold to a Venezuelan company a year ago. He added, “The seizure of the plane, which was transferred a year ago, is due to political goals, and its crew works for the Venezuelan company, and the matter has nothing to do with Mahan Air.”
CNN has contacted the Iranian embassy in Argentina and the government of Venezuela about their reaction to the issue, but no response has been received so far. The plane’s current owner, Emtrasur, did not respond to inquiries.
“The past few weeks are full of propaganda, psychological operations and war of words to stir up a feeling of insecurity (in Iran) and this issue is part of it,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said in his weekly press conference. Agence France-Presse reports.
Mahan Air has been sanctioned by US authorities over its ties to Iran and the Venezuelan government, according to a US Treasury statement for 2020. Companies and individuals who cooperate with the airline are also subject to potential sanctions from that country.
According to then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Conviasa was also sanctioned in February 2020 for the transfer of “corrupt officials” from the “illegitimate Maduro regime”. The Venezuelan government has rejected these accusations several times.
“The Iranian regime is using Mahan Air as a tool to spread its destabilizing agenda around the world, including corrupt regimes in Syria and Venezuela, as well as terrorist groups throughout the Middle East,” Mnuchin said in August 2020.
“The United States will continue to take action against those who support this airline,” he added at the time.
The cargo plane is operated by Venezuela’s state-owned company, Emtrasur. He landed in Argentina on June 6 from Mexico, after a layover in Caracas, according to a document filed in court by the state-owned Argentine Aeronautics and Aeronautics Corporation (EANA). The plane was due to enter the plane with auto parts from the Mexican city of Queretaro, which were acquired by the Argentine private company SAS Automotriz SA, the supplier of the car maker Volkswagen.
Neither SAS Automotriz SA nor Volkswagen were aware of any connection to the rental of the aircraft. Volkswagen reported that it had ordered auto parts from SAS Automotriz, while the supplier said in another statement that “the contract was entered into for the transportation of components intended for the production of dashboards and seats for the Taos model,” but made it clear that it was doing so. Don’t know what is the relationship between a freight forwarder and an airline. He stated that his contracted freight forwarder was Frecht.
In a third statement, Fracht said: “With the sole purpose of transporting air cargo from Mexico for the benefit of its customer, Fracht has chartered Aerocharter Mexico, which has assumed full responsibility for this flight.” CNN is trying to contact Aerocharter México and is awaiting a response on the details of this air operation.
The initial destination of the plane in Argentina was Ezeiza International Airport, in the province of Buenos Aires, but due to heavy fog on Monday, June 6, the plane had to be diverted to land at Cordoba Airport, in the center of the file according to the file. Hours later, he was able to resume the journey to Ezeiza, where he finally landed.
The next day, Emtrasur submitted its flight plan to Maiquetia International Airport, which serves Caracas, but the flight was delayed and had to request an extension twice. On that Tuesday, the seventh, it failed to take off, although authorities did not inform the court of the reason.
On Wednesday the eighth, he submitted a new flight plan to Montevideo Airport, Uruguay. He took off, but when the Uruguayan authorities received a notification that the plane had entered their airspace, they refused to let him land and he had to return to Buenos Aires.
The judicial file arose from the submission of a subpoena. Argentine lawyer Rafael Resnik Brenner, on behalf of the 19 crew (14 Venezuelans and five Iranians), denounced that the Argentine authorities had seized their passports and granted them temporary residence during the past week “on the pretext of determining the status of the plane,” according to the lawyer’s book. In addition, as the judge informed, they were told that they could only leave the country on a plane, and they had to leave the “abandoned” Venezuelan YV3531 registration aircraft.
According to the lawyer and documents handed to court by monitoring agencies and seen by CNN, the plane was “comprehensively monitored” by the Airport Security Police (PSA) and the Directorate General of Customs (DGA). The National Directorate of Migration (DNM) and the Argentine Federal Police (PFA) also intervened.
The authorities confirmed that the transported shipment had no violations and allowed it to enter the country. The plane was checked again after returning to Argentina, when they were stranded. The companies charged with providing the airport with fuel refused to supply the plane, considering that by cooperating with the requirements of the planes, they could be targeted by US sanctions, according to the file.
On Monday, the Argentine judge ordered the withholding of the passports of the five Iranians who entered as crew members. The decision came on the basis of a presentation by the delegation of Argentinean Israeli Associations (DAIA), which asked the judge, after news reports on the case, to prevent crew members from leaving the country and to investigate whether Iranian citizens were linked to the Islamic Revolution. Iran’s Guard, accused of ordering a terrorist attack on the AMIA Joint Jewish Association in 1994. Iran has always denied its participation in the attack.
In the afternoon, Federal Prosecutor Cecilia Encardona opened an investigation into the case and asked the judge to order summary secrecy, a measure the judge agreed to.
On May 13, the same Empressor plane landed at Guarani Airport, in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, reported that country’s Minister of the Interior, Federico Gonzalez, on ABC Radio Color. The crew consisted of 18 people (six Iranians and 12 Venezuelans). According to the Paraguayan official, some of their names match those of the crew members who entered Argentina.
The official said the Iranians who entered Paraguay would be “members of the Quds unit of Iran’s (Islamic) Revolutionary Guards.” The Minister of the Interior said that the information was provided to Paraguay “by a foreign intelligence service”, without specifying which country it came from, although he later hinted that it would be the United States.
On that occasion, the plane remained in that country over the weekend, until May 16. Located on the triple border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, Ciudad del Este is an area that has been investigated for decades for the presence of groups linked to drug trafficking and international terrorist financing. The official said that the plane “left from there, heading to Aruba, with a shipment of cigarettes.” He added that “the 18 crew members were staying in the same hotel” and “left on that date on the plane.”
Gonzalez explained that when the Amtrasur plane attempted to return to Paraguay, the authorities of that country prevented it from flying and landing on two occasions. The official added that the last time was on June 8, the same day Uruguay imposed a landing ban on its territory.
“It was the Paraguayan intelligence service that alerted other intelligence services in the region about the status of that plane and the company that the US Treasury sanctioned,” Gonzalez said. The official did not specify the date on which he alerted Argentina.