An Airbus 340-600 which used to belong to Iran's Mahan Air and has been handed over to Venezuela's Conviasa just this week was en route to Buenos Aires' Ezeiza international airport Wednesday when it was diverted to Bolivia.
The decision was taken at the last minute out of fear that the aircraft might also be seized by Argentine authorities, like the Boeing 747-300 of Emtrasur (a Conviasa subsidiary), also a former Mahan Air unit on the United States' government black list.
Flight 9502 of Venezuela's state-owned Conviasa was supposed to land Wednesday at Ezeiza international airport and return to Caracas at 9.50 pm with the Boeing's crew. However, Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro changed his mind at the last minute to avoid a repetition of what happened with the Emtrasur plane still held in Buenos Aires together with 14 Venezuelans and 5 Iranians who were onboard.
The Airbus A340-600 was transferred June 13 from Mahan Air to Conviasa, Venezuela's state-run airline also blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department. It had arrived from Tehran at Margarita Island with 70 alleged Iranian tour operators and influencers onboard.
Maduro's newly-appointed ambassador to Argentina, Stella Lugo Betancourt de Montilla, promoted the contracts with Mahan Air in 2019, when she was Minister of Tourism. She has also pushed for the return of Conviasa's direct flights between Caracas and Buenos Aires.
Federal Prosecutor Cecilia Incardona and Judge Federico Villena continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the 747's arrival at Ezeiza. The last measure was to ground the aircraft, which had not been banned from leaving the country, although it was unable to do so due to lack of fuel.
The crew has also been banned from leaving the country, which rendered the Airbus' flight useless while it also faced similar restrictive measures. The case is under a seal of secrecy, which is why detailed information from judicial sources is either scarce or based merely on rumors and assumptions.
Some Argentine government officials were reportedly aware of the irregularities in the Iranian plane, even two days before the scandal broke out. According to TN, a high-ranking Airport Security Police (PSA) official had asked several companies in Ezeiza to refuel the Venezuelan-flagged Boeing 747 at a time the scandal had not yet gone public. The oil companies Axion, Shell, and YPF refused to refuel the Venezuelan aircraft because it was sanctioned by the US government, where these companies also have operations.
TN sources said the orders to refill the 747's tanks stemmed directly from Casa Rosada, where someone was very much interested in the aircraft's departure before the scandal broke out.