Buenos Aires, Argentina — Authorities in Argentina and Paraguay are trying to shed light on the mystery of the size of a jumbo jet surrounding a cargo plane with an Iranian and Venezuelan crew that was grounded outside Buenos Aires for more than two weeks.
Prosecutors in the two South American countries have launched investigations to determine whether the crew members – 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians – have links to international terrorism or other illicit activities.
Cecilia Incardona, the prosecutor in charge of the case in Argentina, is focusing her investigations on the Iranian pilot, Gholamreza Ghasemi, and his possible links with international terrorism.
The FBI said in a report to Argentine federal judge Federico Villena, who is handling the case, that Ghasemi is the CEO of Qeshm Fars Air, which the US Treasury Department says provides material support to the Quds Force. Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian airline. Mahan Air, according to a document released by Incardona’s office this week.
During the preliminary investigation into the plane, “numerous traces have emerged which make it necessary to go ahead with the investigation” of Ghasemi, the rest of the plane’s crew and its cargo , Incardona said in the document.
Incardona went on to say that the “irregular circumstances” surrounding the plane created the need to investigate “whether the real purpose of the plane’s arrival in our country was exclusively to transport auto parts” or if it it was really about “preparing to provide goods or money that could be used for terrorist activity, financing or organization”.
The plane is operated by Venezuelan state-owned Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Conviasa, which is subject to US sanctions.
Before being sold to Emtrasur a year ago, the plane belonged to Mahan Air of Iran, which the US government sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities.
Incardona said the investigation must now determine whether Mahan Air continues to have a connection to the Boeing 747-300.
Mahan Air has publicly denied any connection to the plane, and Venezuela has demanded that Argentine authorities release it.
The plane was carrying cargo for several Argentine auto parts companies which it loaded in Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina on June 6.
The plane has been parked in a hangar in Ezeiza just outside Buenos Aires since June 8, when Argentinian authorities seized the crew members’ passports.
The crew is also under investigation in Paraguay, where the plane landed last month, Attorney General Sandra Quiñónez said. The probe was opened after René Fernández, a former prosecutor who heads Paraguay’s National Anti-Corruption Secretariat, called for an investigation into the plane, which spent three days in Ciudad del Este, near the border with Argentina.
It is suspected that the plane’s cargo was “a front” that hid the real reason for his stay in Paraguay, Fernández told a local television station.
Esteban Aquino, head of Paraguay’s intelligence agency, told an Argentinian radio station on Monday that they were particularly concerned when they learned that the plane had turned off its transponder on several segments of its flights.
The plane’s unusually large crew also raised suspicion in Paraguay, but it wasn’t until after the plane left the country to transport cigarettes to Aruba that officials learned it “belonged to an Iranian company that is suspended with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department,” Paraguay’s interior minister said. Federico González said earlier this month.
The Israeli Embassy in Uruguay on Wednesday expressed “concern” about the plane which “was used until recently by the Iranian company Mahan Air”.
In a press release, the embassy said some of the Iranian crew members “were directly involved in arms trafficking to Syria and the Hezbollah terrorist organization from Lebanon.”