A Venezuelan-registered Boeing 747 red-flagged by the United States has been seized at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza airport, after which Argentine authorities kept the passports of the seventeen crewmembers.
According to reports, twelve of the cargo aircraft occupants were of Venezuelan nationality while five others held Iranian passports.
The Boeing 747-300 cargo airplane of the Emtrasur company had landed last Monday at Córdoba airport, due to fog preventing operations at Ezeiza. Once it completed its trip it was greeted by Airport Security Police (PSA), Customs, Federal Police and Migration Department authorities who carried out a deployment following intelligence data from several agencies worldwide.
The aircraft had already flown between Buenos Aires and Córdoba with its transponder turned off, which prevents it from being identified on air traffic control radars.
After a thorough checkup, the aircraft was determined to be carrying auto parts for an automotive company, with nothing strange onboard. However, some of the Iranians were said to have ties with the Quds Forces, a branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which specializes in asymmetric warfare, in addition to military intelligence operations and other activities outside Iran's borders.
An Argentine federal judge in Lomas de Zamora with jurisdiction on the Ezeiza airport has ordered Migrations authorities to return their passports to the Iranians who will be able to leave the country unless prosecutors file specific charges against them.
Pending the investigation, all aircraft occupants were housed at a hotel near tthe airport, while a lawyer representing them filed a habeas corpus request. Federal Judge Federico Villena also ruled that withholding the passports was a correct measure because there were valid suspicions.
The Iranian nationals now have two options: either they stay in Argentina for up to 15 days on a crew-member permit or they leave. But the Boeing 747 is not airworthy since it has no fuel. The five Iranians on the plane were identified as Mohammad Khosraviaragh, Gholamreza Ghasemi, Mahdi Mouseli, Saeid Vali Zadeh and Abdolbaset Mohammadi.
The Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) and the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) demanded the total clarification of the situation, which they described as worrying.
The withholding in our country of an airplane operated by the Venezuelan company Emtrasur, and linked to the Iranian company Mahan Air, sanctioned by the United States for its links with terrorist activities, constitutes an event that must be urgently clarified by the national authorities, they said in a statement.