BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday asked for permission to confiscate an Iranian plane sold to Venezuelan owners and impounded in Argentina on suspicions it was linked to international terrorist groups, the agency said in a statement.
The unannounced arrival of the plane in Argentina on June 8 sparked weeks of intrigue as well as concern within the Argentine government over its ties to Iran and Venezuela and companies sanctioned by the U.S. The plane was grounded by local authorities on landing.
The confiscation request followed the unsealing of a July 19 warrant for the plane’s seizure in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which alleged that the aircraft could be confiscated because it violated export control laws, the DOJ said.
The DOJ said the U.S.-origin Boeing 747-300 aircraft is subject to sanctions as its sale from Iran’s Mahan Air to Emtrasur last year, part of the Venezuelan Consortium of Aeronautical Industries and Air Services (Conviasa), violates U.S. export laws. Both companies are sanctioned by the United States for alleged collaboration with terrorist organizations.
“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 in the statement.
Mahan Air is sanctioned for ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force (IRGC-QF), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization. The U.S. sanctioned Conviasa in 2019 for its ties to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
“The seizure of this aircraft demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who seek to violate U.S. sanctions and export control laws,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves.
Fourteen Venezuelans and five Iranians were traveling on the plane when it arrived in Buenos Aires. Seven of them are still detained in Argentina.
Argentina’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis and Walter Bianchi; Writing by Carolina Pulice; Editing by Brendan O’Boyle and Christian Schmollinger)