Argentine authorities retained a Venezuelan-owned cargo plane, citing US sanctions on Iran. Five Iranian crewmembers and fourteen Venezuelans were onboard and among them was ex-IRGC commander Gholamreza Ghasemi together with several members of the Quds Force.

The plane, a Boeing 747-3B3(M) belonging to the Venezuelan company Emtrasur, landed on Monday, June 6 at the Cordoba airport. Later it flew covertly to the international airport in Ezeiza, a few kilometres from Buenos Aires, where police were waiting with information from intelligence sources.

The Airport Security Police, Argentine customs and immigration, and the federal police were all involved in stopping the plane and detaining its crew. The decision was based on Article 35 of the Argentine Migration Law, which allows for seizures in the event of “a well-founded suspicion that the real intention that motivates the entry differs from that manifested at the time of obtaining the visa or appearing before immigration control.”

Who Were the Iranians on Board?

ifmat - Report - Venezuelan plane carrying IRGC officers grounded in Argentina

The incident did not reach the press until Saturday, and only then thanks to a request for information by Argentine deputy Gerardo Milman. Of the plane with the registration code YV3531, he wrote: “Given the enigmatic behaviour of the flight, the confusing property of the aircraft and the composition of the crew, I ask my peers to accompany me in this project.”

The same deputy filed a complaint against officials who participated in the operation at the airport. The plane, he noted, was able to successfully travel between Cordoba and Buenos Aires “with the transponder turned off as if it did not want to be located.” The complaint involves:

José Glinskim, national director of the Airport Security Police;

María Florencia Carignano, national head of Immigration;

Paola Tamburelli, national Administrator of Civil Aviation;

Gabriela Logato, president of the Argentine Air Navigation Company;

Silvia Brunilda Traverso, general director of customs.

Because of the transponder being turned off, Milman wrote that he suspected the plane was part of “a deeper manoeuvre… [such as] route reconnaissance tests”. But, he told reporters, “It would be relevant for the security of Argentines to confirm, via fingerprints, all Iranian citizens who arrived on this flight to the country. It must be clarified what their intentions are in our territory, which is still quite confusing.”

Iranian crew members:

– Mohammad Khosraviaragh

– Ghomlareza Ghasemi

Gholamreza Ghasemi

– Mahadi Mouseli

– Saeid Vali Zadeh

– Abdolbaset Mohammadi

Gholamreza Ghasemi was registered as the aircraft’s captain. He is a shareholder and member of the board at the sanctioned Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air. He was also previously chairman of Iran Naft Airlines, later renamed Karun, and is a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) officer.

At least two of the other Iranian crew members are thought to have ties to the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, which apart from incursions into countries neighboring Iran is known for conducting terror attacks overseas. So far, the Argentine Airport Security Police have limited themselves to reporting that the plane “was transporting auto parts for an automotive company”; an Argentine official who took part in the operation said it “was in Paraguay 15 days ago and took a load of cigarettes to Aruba”.

The Retained Plane

The Venezuelan company Emtrasur is the owner of the Boeing 747 aircraft registered under the number YV3531. But it previously belonged to Mahan Air, anIranian carrier also sanctioned over the suspected trafficking of weapons. Interestingly, the transfer of the plane to the Venezuelan firm took place as part of a “tourism cooperation” deal signed in April 2019 between Caracas and Tehran.

The agreement’s signatory on behalf of Venezuela was Stella Lugo Betancourt, appointed by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as his representative in Argentina. In other words, the plane is listed as part of a Venezuelan tourist fleet, but it performs unclear cargo functions. The Argentine journalist Ignacio Montes de Oca published on Twitter the document that proves the transfer.

On Sunday afternoon it was noticed that the Argentine lawyer Rafael Resnick Brenner had filed a habeas corpus before the federal court in Lomas de Zamora for the aircraft and all its crew, whose passports have been seized. Resnick Brenner is an ex-director of the Federal Public Revenue Agency (AFIP) during the infamously Tehran-sympathetic government of Cristina Kirchner, which also had good relations with Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro. He was involved in one of the most prominent corruption cases in Argentine history, known as the “Ciccone Case”, and was ultimately fired from the Public Revenue Administration for extorting citizens.

Finally, in the early hours of this Monday, Judge Federico Villena rejected the habeas corpus – but granted the Iranians a permit to spend 15 days in Argentina or leave the country. The passports are still withheld on the basis that there are valid suspicions, but everything seems to indicate the Iranians will depart again shortly – on the same mysterious plane.

ifmat - Report - Venezuelan plane carrying IRGC officers grounded in Argentina1

Two companies under investigation for links to Iranian-Venezuelan plane grounded in Venezuela

In June the unusual story of a plane grounded in Argentina after a covert flight over the country’s airspace with the transponder turned off made headlines worldwide. The US Department of Justice is now seeking to seize the aircraft, which was previously sold by Iran’s Mahan Air to Venezuel’s Emtrasur, and was flying with a mixed Iranian-Venezuelan crew.

The FBI has named two Spanish companies as involved in the affair, Zorex SA and Alcux Air Spain. Zorex SA appears to be a ghost company whose offices at Madrid 2 Stree, in Colmenar Viejo, a small town 40km away from the Spanish capital, ceased to operate last year. Contact numbers and physical addresses on Zorex’s website lead to nowhere. Alcux Air Spain is registered at a building on the outskirts of Barcelona. But these offices, too, are bereft of a telephone number, contact details, or a website. IranWire’s efforts to locate a single representative or employee of the company, or to locate a working number, were fruitless.

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Aug 03 2022 – US seeks possession of Venezuelan 747 grounded in Argentina

The US Justice Department said Tuesday it is seeking possession of a Venezuelan cargo jet that has been grounded in Argentina since early June because it was previously owned by an Iranian airline that allegedly has ties to terror groups.

The request to Argentina was revealed a day after an Argentine judge allowed 12 of the 19 crewmembers of the plane to leave the country as authorities continue to investigate possible terror ties of those traveling in the Boeing 747. Federal Judge Federico Villena said late Monday that the remaining four Iranians and three Venezuelans must stay.

The US request sent to Argentina on Tuesday followed the unsealing of a warrant in federal court in the District of Columbia that was issued last month and that argues the U.S-made plane should be forfeited because of violations of US export control laws.

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The recent detainment of a Venezuelan cargo plane in Argentina could be linked to attempts by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) to attack Israelis abroad

For over a decade, the recently detained Boeing 747-3B3 cargo plane belonged to the Iranian Mahan Air, an airline that has been sanctioned by the US for transporting IRGC operatives, weapons, equipment and funds.

In February of this year, intelligence agencies began monitoring the cargo plane about a month after it switched its registration from being under Mahan Air to being under Emtrasur, the cargo branch of the Venezuelan state-owned Conviasa company, explained the Intelli Times editor. The Emtrasur company was founded in November 2021.

After the transfer, the aircraft, staffed by an Iranian team, took off on January 23 from Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran and began operating out of El Libertador Air Base in Maracay, Venezuela, near where the Venezualan state-owned EANSA company operates to produce and assemble satellites and armaments for aircraft.

The new registration provided Iran with a way to covertly ship equipment, personnel and weapons straight to EANSA without having to use Iranian airlines or land in civilian airports.

the previously Iranian aircraft was also able to conduct “fueling stops” along its routes, sparking concerns that the aircraft could have used the stops to covertly transfer operatives and equipment for the IRGC Quds Force’s Unit 190, as well as to carry products to sell in order to fund terrorist operations.

The Quds Force’s Unit 190 smuggles weapons to its forces and proxies abroad and directs and conducts terrorist attacks abroad, the Israeli analyst explained.

Gholamreza Ghasemi, the pilot of the aircraft when the plane was detained, has been linked in the past with Unit 190 and has been identified by the FBI as the CEO of Fars Air Qeshm.

The aircraft’s latest smuggling activity

Between March 1 and April 23 of this year, the Emtrasur aircraft made a number of cargo flights, including to the airport in Guangzhou, China. China is suspected of being a major supplier for Iran for parts and equipment needed to develop UAVs.

On February 24, the aircraft was raided and investigated after it made a technical landing, likely for fueling, at the airport in Belgrade, explained Solomon. The raid was photographed by an aviation enthusiast who happened to be photographing the landing.

On June 6, the aircraft took off from Mexico towards Ezeiza Airport in Argentina with its transponder off, but landed on the way at Cordoba airport due to weather conditions. Despite the landing at Cordoba airport being portrayed as happenstance, people or goods were seemingly loaded or unloaded from the aircraft during the stop, according to Solomon.

Afterward, the aircraft landed in Buenos Aires carrying vehicle parts it had loaded in Mexico. While there is a wide trade of auto parts between Mexico and Argentina, there is no apparent reason why a Venezuelan aircraft staffed by Iranians would be the one shipping these parts, explained Solomon. This fact was one of the factors that sparked suspicions that the flight was also carrying “dual-use” parts which could be used for both civilian and military purposes.

After landing in Buenos Aires, the aircraft attempted to depart to Uruguay but was refused entry and returned to Argentina, where it was then detained by Argentine authorities.

On June 11, a list of crewmembers was leaked revealing that the aircraft was carrying 19 staff members, much more than needed for such a flight. The staff included five Iranians, including Ghasemi.

According to reports from Argentine media, the staff told authorities that the Iranians were on the flight in order to train the Venezuelan staff as part of the transfer of the aircraft from Mahan Air. Mahan Air stated earlier this month that the ownership of the aircraft was transferred to Emtrasur a year ago and the staff on the plane were employed by the Venezuelan airline, not Mahan.

The Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported that two of the Venezuelan staff members were soldiers, both with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The cell phones, laptops, tablets and passports of all the staff members have been seized by Argentine authorities. Photos of tanks, weapons and a photo of himself serving in the IRGC were found on Ghasemi’s phone, as well as an image of an Israeli flag with an anti-Israel statement in Farsi, according to La Nacion.

Cecilia Incardona, the prosecutor leading the case in Argentina, has ordered an investigation to determine the true objective of the plane’s arrival in Buenos Aires and to determine the possible connection of Ghasemi to international terrorist activities. Incardona cited the “irregular circumstances” and “inconsistencies in information” surrounding the case.

Gerardo Milman, an Argentine lawmaker, claimed in an interview with Iran International last week that the Iranians on board the aircraft were planning “attacks on human targets.”

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