Venezuela demands Argentina to return detained plane

BOGOTA, Colombia 

An official delegation from Venezuela protested Thursday outside Argentina’s embassy in Caracas against the impounding of a plane and its crew in Buenos Aires since June.

Venezuelan Minister of Transport Ramon Velasquez and lawmakers gathered outside the embassy, demanding Argentina to “return the plane and crew!”

The plane was detained in Argentina’s capital on June 8 by order of a judge, who opened an investigation against the crew, consisting of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians, for “espionage and terrorism.”

The Boeing 747 entered Argentina on June 6 with a cargo of auto parts from Mexico. Unable to refuel in Argentina due to US sanctions, it departed for Montevideo, but Uruguayan authorities denied it access and it flew back to Buenos Aires, where it was ordered by a judge to be detained.

The US Department of Justice on Aug. 2 asked Argentina for permission to confiscate the Iranian plane sold to Venezuelan owners, arguing that it was linked to international terrorist groups, the agency said in a statement.

On July 19, a US court in the District of Columbia issued an order to seize the plane on the grounds that there was an “unauthorized transfer” of the plane from Mahan Air, an Iranian airline affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, which Washington says is a “designated terrorist organization,” to EMTRASUR, a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned company Conviasa, which is also under sanctions from the US Treasury.

On Thursday, the Argentine judge admitted a request from the US to seize the plane. The aircraft, which remains at Ezeiza International Airport outside Buenos Aires, was inspected Thursday by agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), according to local news.

The intervention of the US resulted in Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordering a team of “experts” to go to Argentina to fight the “battle for Venezuela.” He said the US was attempting to “steal” the plane and has questioned Argentina’s justice system for “kneeling before” the US.

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