A Boeing 747 operating for the cargo division of Venezuelan national carrier Conviasa is stranded in Argentina for its links with Iran’s IRGC Quds Force.
Aníbal Fernández, Argentina’s security minister tweeted on Saturday that “The Government immobilized in Ezeiza [Airport in Buenos Aires] a Venezuelan plane sanctioned by the United States and withheld the passport of five Iranian crew members.” The tweet came after a local website leaked the news about the plane.
The plane was previously operating for Iran’s Mahan Airlines, sanctioned by the United States for its links to Tehran’s extraterritorial intelligence and secret ops outfit, the Quds (Qods) Force since 2008. The specific aircraft which belonged to French airlines since it entered service in 1986, was sold to Mahan Airlines in 2007 and apparently was later sanctioned by the United States.
Early in 2022, Venezuela’s Conviasa decided to set up a cargo division that came to be called Emtrasur Cargo and its first plane was the Boeing 747-300M bought or leased from Mahan airlines and christened ‘Louisa Caceres Arismendi.’ What is more interesting is that its next two planes were also supposed to be Mahan Airlines aircraft.
With close military and economic cooperation between Caracas and Tehran, the newly established cargo company could to be a joint venture.
However, a Mahan spokesman in Theran denied that the plane had any links with the company and said that it was "sold to Venezuela about a year ago."
The Boeing 747 flew from Mexico to Argentina on June 6, carrying automotive parts, but according to Argentinian media, someone knew something and decided to inspect the aircraft carefully, Aviacioline reported on June 11.
Although it turned out that there was no illegal cargo on board and the auto parts shipment were delivered to its recipient in Argentina, authorities became more suspicious that there were five Iranians and at least a dozen Venezuelans on board, with the Iranians not appearing in the passenger manifest. As a result, the passports of the Iranians were seized and all the passengers are reported to be in a hotel.
According to the same local sources, Argentina suspects that the Iranians are members of the Quds Force but are allowed to leave the country on regular scheduled flights.
But the fate of the plane is another story. No fuel company is willing to provide service to the aircraft for fear of third-party US sanctions. It tried to leave Argentina for Uruguay to get fuel, but had to turn back when permission was denied, according to Spanish-language news website Infobae.
The news about the aircraft emerged after an Argentinian opposition lawmaker, Gerardo Milman, submitted a request for information, citing “the enigmatic behavior of the flight, the confusing ownership of the aircraft and the composition of the crew.” On point that Milman has highlighted is that the Boeing 747 first flew to Cordoba from Mexico, ostensibly because of fog in Buenos Aires and a few hours later flew to its final destination, while its transponder was off.
It is not clear if the fog was the real reason why the plane diverted to Cordoba, and if its crew left the plane or not.
What is also not clear is who provided information to Argentina to carefully inspect the plane and its passengers. Apparently the Venezuelan cargo operation and this particular aircraft were under observation for some time.