Boeing aircraft (stock image)
Boeing aircraft (stock image) iStock

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) asked Argentina on Tuesday to hand over an Iranian airplane purchased by Venezuelans which was grounded in Argentina over charges it was connected to international terrorism.

Argentina impounded the Boeing 747 aircraft after it landed in the country on June 8 over concerns it was tied to Iranian and Venezuelan firms under American sanctions.

The DOJ sent a request to Argentinian officials to seize the plane after a warrant of seizure was issued in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the DOJ said in a statement.

“The warrant, which was issued on July 19, alleges that the US-made plane is subject to forfeiture based on violations of US export control laws related to the unauthorized transfer of the plane from Mahan Air, an Iranian airline affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a designated terrorist organization, and Empresa de Transporte Aéreocargo del Sur, S.A. (EMTRASUR), a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos, S.A (CONVIASA), a Venezuelan state-owned company," the DOJ said.

Mahan Air has been subject to Department of Commerce sanctions since 2008, preventing the company from engaging in transactions involving commodities exported from the US. It was also sanctioned in 2011 by the Treasure Department.

The seizure warrant documented that in June, Argentinian officials detained the flight crew of the airplane, including five Iranians.

The investigation involved the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security and the FBI.

“The registered captain of the aircraft was identified as an ex-commander for the IRGC and a shareholder and member of the board of Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air,” the statement said, noting that Argentinian law enforcement searched the plane and found a flight log documenting a flight to Tehran in April.

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and export laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division.

“Today’s coordinated actions target the unlawful transfer of an Iranian cargo plane to a Venezuelan airline and the airline’s subsequent operation of that plane in violation of our rules,” said Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement Matthew Axelrod of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.

“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 U.S. laws,” said Acting Assistant Director of Counterterrorism Kevin Vorndran of the FBI. “The FBI, along with our international partners, will continue to seek out those individuals who contribute to the advancement of Iran’s malign activities and ensure they are brought to justice, regardless of where, or how, they attempt to hide.”