A jumbo jet-sized mystery has landed in the lap of Argentine officials, who are trying to determine what to do with a Venezuelan-owned Boeing 747 cargo plane with a load of automotive parts and an unusually large crew of 17, including at least five Iranians.
The plane operated by Venezuela's state-owned Emtrasur cargo line has been stuck since June 6 at Buenos Aires' main international airport, unable to depart because of US sanctions against Iran and suspicions about its crew.
Security Minister Aníbal Fernández said Monday that the government and legal authorities are studying the situation.
He said foreign intelligence agencies “advised that part of the crew belonged to companies related to the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran,” which has been officially listed as a terrorist organization by the US government since 2007.
He also said that the plane's operators had reported a smaller number of crewmembers than were actually aboard — an unusually large contingent for a cargo plane. It was carrying parts for an automotive assembly plant, though he did not specify which one.
Until being sold to Emtrasur about a year ago, the plane had been owned by Mahan Air of Iran, a line the US government has sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities. Numerous foreign companies over the years have been sanctioned for doing business with Mahan.
A spokesman for Mahan Air, Hossein Zolanvari, earlier told the state-run IRNA news agency that his company sold the Boeing to a Venezuelan company about a year ago.
“Mentioning Mahan Air in connection with the impounded airplane has aimed at political purposes,” he said. He said the plane’s crew also have no connection to Mahan Air.
The plane's crewmembers have been lodged at a hotel and Fernandez said the Venezuelans are free to leave if they want, while the Iranians can move about in the capital.
Fernandez said the plane had stopped in Paraguay in May. On June 6, it was headed for Ezeiza airport on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, but climatic conditions forced it to stop instead in the city of Cordoba before finally reaching the Argentine capital, where it attracted the attention of immigration authorities, who confiscated the crew's passports.
Emtrasur began flying this year, operating out of the Venezuelan military's Libertador Air Base.
Flight tracking services show the plane also had made stops in earlier months in Mexico and Venezuela.
Argentina itself has suffered from terror attacks that authorities blame on Iran, notably a 1992 explosion at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires and another at a Jewish organization in 1994. Argentina is seeking the arrest of several Iranian officials, though Iran denies involvement.