The Argentine federal judge investigating the suspected underlying reasons for the Venezuelan-flagged Boeing 747-300 cargo airplane banned from leaving the country Thursday acquiesced to a request from the United States to bring over the aircraft, which is also under investigation there.
US authorities have blacklisted the four-engined freighter because they argue it has been involved in deeds in breach of sanctions. The US-built airplane had been transferred from Iran's Mahan Air to Venezuela's Emtrasur (a cargo subsidiary of flag carrier Conviasa). Both countries are targeted by US embargoes and sanctions.
Judge Federico Villena decided to seize the airplane and leave the final decision on whether to extradite it to the Executive. Argentine President Alberto Fernández has just restored diplomatic relations with Nicolás Maduro's Venezuela but US Ambassador Marc Stanley has become a key player at Casa Rosada.
Villena ruled the US request fell under a mutual legal assistance treaty signed in 1991. His decision caused uproar in Caracas. The magistrate also ordered a new search of the aircraft. It was the third since it landed on Argentine soil. But this time around it involved agents of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at the request of Washington DC, Federal Judge Michael Harvey.
Based on the order issued July 19 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia, the US Department of Justice determined that the aircraft could be confiscated due to violations of its export control regulations establishing that the Department of Commerce has the power to apply sanctions and blockades to any unauthorized activity.
The aircraft was originally manufactured on US soil, then sold to Air France, and subsequently to Iran's Mahan Air. Since 2008, the US government has prohibited transactions related to the Iranian company's exports due to an alleged link with terrorist groups. Within this blockade, there is also the aircraft that remains in Buenos Aires, after being purchased by Conviasa, the Venezuelan state-owned company. The crime invoked by the United States is a violation of laws not existing in Argentina.
Villena's decision does not affect the aircraft's crewmembers still held in Buenos Aires pending inquiries into whether they harbored intentions other than flying cargo from one country to another.
Paraguay had also stepped into the Emtrasur jet's saga. Judiciary officers there are looking into possible ties between one of the 747's crew members and the murder in Colombia earlier this year of Prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, Anti-Corruption Minister René Fernández explained.
During a stay at Ciudad del Este, the 747's crew met with the Uruguayan Federico Ezequiel Santoro Vasallo, who has been singled out as the man in the shadows of the criminal organization led by Sebastián Marset Cabrera, who is believed to be financially and intellectually behind Pecci's assassination while on his honeymoon. The material perpetrators have been arrested, tried, and convicted.
We can objectively say that they had contact, that this Iranian-Venezuelan crew was in contact with this person who has a record for international human trafficking and drug trafficking, the Paraguayan official insisted.