US seizes plane that Iran sold to Venezuela

The United States claims Iran violated its sanctions when it sold the jumbo jet to Venezuela.

A Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747, operated by Venezuela's state-owned Emtrasur cargo line [AP]

Tehran, Iran – The United States has seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane that Iran sold to a Venezuelan state airline, drawing condemnation from Tehran.

The US Department of Justice announced late on Monday that it had taken custody of the aircraft after Argentina grounded it 18 months ago. Washington says that the sale of the plane to Venezuela in 2022 by Iran’s Mahan Air violated its sanctions on Tehran.

The US has imposed sanctions on the airline due to its affiliation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Mahan Air’s sale of the aircraft to Venezuela’s Emtrasur violated these sanctions, Washington said. Following the deal, Argentina grounded the jumbo jet in July 2022.

“Mahan Air – known to ferry weapons and fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah – violated our export restrictions by selling this airplane to a Venezuelan cargo airline. Now, it’s property of the United States government,” said Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement Matthew S Axelrod in a statement.

Since the US started imposing its toughest unilateral sanctions yet on Iran in 2019, Washington has been treating the IRGC – a crucial military and economic component of the establishment in Iran – as a “foreign terrorist organisation”.

‘Possessions and belongings’

Iran was swift to blast the US move. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Nasser Kanaani condemned it as “illegal” in a short statement, contended that it violated the United Nations Charter, and vowed to help Caracas in reclaiming the Boeing.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran announces its decisive support for the legal and diplomatic efforts of Venezuela in order to regain ownership and access to the possessions and belongings of the country,” he said.

Venezuela’s government 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” without elaborating on any detailed steps.

The administration of Tehran-allied Nicolas Maduro condemned Argentina for “colluding” with the US and violating international aeronautics regulations and the rights of Emtrasur.

The US Justice Department cited court documents claiming that the registered captain of the aircraft was a former commander of the IRGC and a shareholder and board member of Fars Air Qeshm, which the US claims to be affiliated with the foreign operations Quds Force of the IRGC branch charged with operations outside Iran.

Since Argentinian authorities grounded the plane, the US has been seeking to take possession.

The US Justice Department said the US-built plane is scheduled to be disposed of after having arrived in Florida. It did not elaborate further.

Source: Al Jazeera