U.S. seizes Boeing 747 cargo plane that Iranian airline sold to Venezuelan company

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The United States government has seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane that was previously owned by a sanctioned Iranian airline, the Justice Department said Monday.

Federal prosecutors said Iranian airline Mahan Air sold the American-built plane to Emtrasur, a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of a state-owned firm that had previously been sanctioned by the U.S.

Officials said the sale violated American export control laws.

Matthew S. Axelrod, assistant secretary of export enforcement at the Department of Commerce, alleged Mahan Air aided Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah. The airline has denied any ties to the aircraft. 

“This seized airplane’s arrival in the United States is a powerful example of our unceasing efforts to prevent Iran and its proxies from leveraging and profiting from U.S. technology,” Axelrod said in a statement.

DOJ: Venezuela transferred plane to U.S.

The U.S. filed a complaint in 2022 alleging Mahan Air’s transfer of the plane to Emtrasur violated federal export control laws, noting the airline was subject to sanctions.

Prosecutors alleged that Mahan Air, a private company based in Iran’s capital city of Tehran, aided Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which former President Donald Trump deemed a foreign terrorist organization in 2019 – the first time the U.S. designated part of another government an FTO.

Argentine officials detained the aircraft in 2022 and transferred it to the U.S. on Sunday, the U.S. attorney’s office said. The plane had arrived in Florida and would be “prepared for disposition,” officials said.

U.S. officials identified the captain of the aircraft as a former commander for the Revolutionary Guard with ties to another sanctioned Iranian airline, Qeshm Fars Air. They also alleged a Mahan Air flight log recovered by Argentine law enforcement showed the aircraft’s flights after the transfer to Emtrasur between Venezuela, Iran and Moscow without U.S. authorization.

Venezuela accuses U.S. and Argentina of ‘collusion’

Venezuela’s government on Monday called the transfer a “shameful rapacious operation” and vowed to “take all actions to restore justice and achieve the restitution of the aircraft to its legitimate owner.” 

The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also accused the U.S. and Argentine governments of “collusion” and of violating civil aeronautics regulations “as well as the commercial, civil and political rights” of Emtrasur.

Contributing: Associated Press

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