Argentina founds Iran-affiliated Venezuelan cargo aircraft

DUBAI / BUENOS AIRES, June 12 (Reuters) – Argentine authorities have put an Iranian-affiliated Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane on the ground, a local opposition lawmaker and Iranian state media said Sunday in a drama that puts the spotlight on political undercurrents in Latin America .

The Emtrasur cargo plane, sold to Venezuela by Iran’s Mahan Air a year ago according to the Iranian airline, arrived in Buenos Aires on June 8, according to flight tracking data. It was then seized by the authorities, the legislature and Iranian media said.

The Argentine government has not publicly confirmed the seizure, but a document from the Interior Ministry shared with Reuters said that the authorities had taken the action due to suspicions about the stated reason why the plane entered the country.

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Iran and Venezuela, both under US sanctions, have close ties. The two countries signed a 20-year cooperation plan on Saturday. Argentina’s center-left president Alberto Fernandez has criticized US sanctions against Venezuela.

The Argentine government did not respond to Reuters inquiries seeking comment on the plane. The Venezuelan authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Sunday, the Argentine lower house’s legislator Gerardo Milman, who has been drawing attention to the case in recent days, presented a complaint to a judge who asked for a fingerprint of the crew and to share the information with the Federal Intelligence Agency.

“Our information is that this is an aircraft that has come to carry out intelligence in Argentina,” said Milman, a member of the country’s congressional intelligence commission.

According to the Interior Ministry document, shared with Reuters by Milman, 14 Venezuelans and 5 Iranians traveled by plane. It listed the names of those on board.

Argentine courts must also rule on a habeas corpus filed by a lawyer for the crew to release the plane and get passports returned to those on board, Argentine media reported.

It was not immediately clear whether the plane, with a tailplate YV3531, was on a list of Iranian-affiliated planes under US sanctions. Mahan Air has been under US sanctions since 2011 for its support of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.

The ownership of the plane was transferred a year ago and it was sold to a Venezuelan company, Mahan’s spokesman, Amir Hossein Zolanvari, told the official news agency IRNA.

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Reporting by Dubai Newsroom and Lucila Sigal in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Vivian Sequera; Writing by Alexander Vilelgas; Edited by Elaine Hardcastle and Chris Reese

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