Argentine Federal Judge Federico Villena Monday ordered their passports be returned to 12 of the 19 crew members of the Venezuelan-Iranian cargo Boeing 747-300 currently seized at the Ezeiza International Airport.
The magistrate also upheld his ban from leaving the country on the other seven members of the crew, including the Iranian captain on whom the FBI raised suspicions. Villena still has doubts as to whether part of the crew could have arrived in the country with intentions beyond the carrying of Mexican-built auto parts.
The investigation still needs to determine if, under the appearance or 'screen' of a lawful activity, part of the crew would be carrying out undetermined illicit maneuvers that affect national and regional security, the judge said in his 260-page ruling.
Those to remain in Argentina are the Iranian citizens Gholamreza Ghasemi, Abdolbaset Mohammadi, Mohammad Khosraviaragh and Saeid Vali Zadeh, and the Venezuelans Víctor Pérez Gómez, Mario Arraga Urdaneta and José Garcia Contreras.
According to the magistrate's decision, the court still needs to determine ”whether citizens of different nationalities, under the appearance of carrying out a lawful activity, are financing terrorist operations (specifically with Hezbollah) or whether they are part of a plan linked to the aforementioned terrorist organization.”
The aircraft, previously owned by Iran's Mahan Air, flew under the color of Venezuelan freight carrier Emtrasur, a subsidiary of flag airline Conviasa. The three companies are on the United States Treasury Department's black list for allegedly giving logistics support to Iran-sponsored terrorist activities worldwide.
Argentina is concerned over the presence of the Iranian crewmembers due to the red alerts on former Iranian officials for their alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and some 300 wounded.
Villena had released the aircraft's cargo last Monday but ordered no changes regarding the situation of the aircraft and its crew, despite requests from the Iranian government: “There is no reason for our citizens to be detained, they are senior civilian personnel who were cooperating in the training of Venezuelans to operate one of the airplanes that were bought from Iran,” Tehran claimed.