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Paraguay launches probe into Emtrasur 747's Ciudad del Este stop

Friday, June 24th 2022 - 00:28 UTC
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“I think there was more than cigarettes on that plane,” Salomón argued. “I think there was more than cigarettes on that plane,” Salomón argued.

Paraguay's President Mario Abdo Benítez has instructed the Anti-corruption Minister René Fernández to request the Prosecutor's Office to launch a probe into the stop in Ciudad del Este in May of the Venezuelan-flagged Boeing 747-300 aircraft with Iranian pilots currently held in Buenos Aires.

Abdo made the request after no ex-officio investigation was launched, even though it was Paraguay's Intelligence Minister Esteban Aquino who warned Argentina and Uruguay about the aircraft's blacklisting by the United States and also of the background of Captain Gholamreza Ghasemi and his mixed Iranian and Venezuelan crew, many of whom have been singled out as having ties to international terrorism, particularly Hezbollah.

According to a document dated May 5, 2022, Paraguay's National Directorate of Civil Aeronautics (Dinac) authorized the May 13 landing of the former Mahan Air aircraft now operating under the colors of Venezuela's Emtrasur for “a non-regular cargo operation” at the Guaraní airport.

The 747 picked up US$ 775,000 worth of cigarettes from the Tabesa tobacco company owned by former President Horacio Cartés to take it to Aruba.

Paraguay's National Police also confirmed uniformed officers escorted the crew to their Ciudad del Este hotel at the request of the flight dispatcher, without any prior alert.

Meanwhile, Paraguay's Money Laundering Prevention Secretariat (Seprelad) hopes these new actions against the Emtrasur aircraft's fudgy activities will help the country pass the audit of the Financial Action Task Force of Latin America (Gafilat) which is expected to announce its results in Quito next month.

”Our country is going through the final stage of an examination process that began at the end of 2019. The main objective is not to return to the so-called gray list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which includes countries with deficiencies in their preventive systems,“ Seprelad's Carlos Arregui explained Thursday after being consult3ed whether the Emtrasur scandal could jeopardize Paraguay's quest.

Anti-corruption Minister Fernández also said that allegations that the 747 had made a stop at Ciudad del Este for a cigarette-delivering operation did not add up and other theories were under consideration. First, he said that the aircraft with a crew of 11 Venezuelans and seven Iranians had arrived without any cargo. ”It is an event that can happen, but it is not so common, because for it to make financial sense this type of flight must transport cargo,“ he argued.

Hence, Paraguayan investigators do not rule out the possibility that the Iranian plane could have carried weapons or money. Minister Fernandez also pointed out that the shipment of cigarettes could be a front. The aircraft and its crew stayed in Paraguay for three days.

On May 21, the aircraft left Caracas bound for Tehran. On May 24 it was spotted over the southern coast of the Caspian Sea. The next day, it landed in Moscow, and that same day it flew back to Iran, from where it went to Belgrade, Serbia. After a short stopover, it flew on to the Atlantic and vanished from the radar near Portugal.

By May 26, it arrived back in Caracas and on June 4 it landed at Querétaro, in Mexico. On June 6, the Ezeiza-bound aircraft was diverted to Cordoba, Argentina, due to fog, carrying a batch of auto parts. On June 8, the aircraft tried to reach Montevideo but was denied entry and flew back to Ezeiza, after which authorities had been alerted about the unclear nature of the freighter. Since then, the crew is staying at a hotel in the airport's area, banned from leaving the country, their passports withheld by local authorities, and terrorism charges filed against Ghasemi.

Paraguayan Senate Speaker Óscar Salomón said Thursday that those responsible for approving the arrival of the Iranian plane in Paraguay will be summoned to give their version of the controversial flight.

Salomón also regretted it took so long for the Public Prosecutor's Office took to open an investigation. He also mentioned other agencies such as Customs and Dinac had some explaining to do.

”They had permission to stay for a few hours and it took three days. It is not known who came (nor) with what kind of documents they entered. There is even talk of false documents. There are questions that need to be clarified. It is worrying that this is happening,“ Salomón said.

There are several questions about the company that hired the plane, Salomón stressed. ”It is an aircraft that would be part of a ghost company“, he said. It does not make sense for the plane to arrive in the country to transport a cargo of cigarettes worth US$ 750,000 when the trip to Aruba costs US$ 450,000.

”I think there was more than cigarettes on that plane. It could be money that was being taken to that tax haven to launder money,” the Senator insisted.

(Source: Última Hora)

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