Argentina seizes passports of grounded plane's Iranian crew

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

A picture taken on September 14, 2017, shows a Mahan Air Airbus at Dubai International Airport. [Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

A picture taken on September 14, 2017, shows a Mahan Air Airbus at Dubai International Airport. [Giuseppe Cacace/AFP]

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Argentinian authorities have temporarily seized the passports of five Iranian crew members of a cargo plane, pending a probe into possible links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), officials said Monday (June 13).

The plane has been grounded since last week.

A judge on Monday ordered the crew members' travel documents held for an additional 72 hours, after Security Minister Anibal Fernandez said information from "foreign organisations" showed some may be linked to companies with ties to the IRGC.

A routine check found "things that were not logical", Fernandez told Perfil radio.

"They had declared a crew that was smaller than the one that travelled," he said, adding the matter was "still under investigation".

The five Iranians were placed in a hotel, he said.

Officials originally said the Iranians' passports had been taken from them but would be returned if they left the country on a scheduled flight while investigations continued into the plane's origins.

The Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane reportedly carrying car parts first landed in Cordoba, Argentina, last Monday, then attempted to travel to neighbouring Uruguay but was denied entry and returned to Ezeiza outside Buenos Aires.

The crew included 14 Venezuelans, who were released.

Neighbouring Paraguay had warned of the aircraft's presence in the area, Paraguayan Interior Minister Federico Gonzalez said.

"The other intelligence services in the region were alerted, and as a result, Argentina and other countries took action," he said.

The grounding of the cargo plane came days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Saturday visited Tehran, where the allies, both subject to US sanctions, signed a 20-year co-operation pact.

The plan includes co-operation in oil, petrochemicals, defence, agriculture, tourism and culture, Reuters reported Sunday.

It also includes the repair of Venezuelan refineries and the export of technical and engineering services, the news agency said.

A weekly flight from Caracas to Tehran is set to begin July 18.

History of terrorism

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Iran's Mahan Air sold the plane to a Venezuelan company last year.

The United States accuses Mahan Air of links to the IRGC, which it has blacklisted as a terrorist organisation.

According to numerous reports, Mahan Air has been used to transport ammunition, weapons and Iran-backed militia members across conflict zones in the Middle East.

Monday's court ruling to hold the crew's passports came after a successful bid by DAIA, the organisation that represents Argentina's Jewish community, to be listed as a plaintiff in the investigation.

Interpol has issued arrest warrants for former Iranian leaders suspected of involvement in an attack on a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.

It remains the deadliest terror attack in the country.

On the anniversary of the attack in 2019, Argentina's government also designated the Lebanese Hizbullah as a terrorist organisation for its role in the attack, as well as in several other terrorist acts on its soil, and froze Hizbullah's assets.

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