American officials claim the Boeing 747 aircraft previously belonged to a sanctioned Iranian airline
US authorities have taken custody of a Venezuelan cargo plane, claiming that it previously belonged to an Iranian airline allegedly affiliated with the Quds Force of the the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Caracas has slammed the move, claiming the transfer of its aircraft to the US was done in secret.
According to a statement on the US Department of Justice (DOJ) website on Monday, the American-manufactured jumbo jet was transferred to the US on February 11 by the government of Argentina, which had detained the aircraft back in 2022.
US officials claim that the aircraft was previously owned by Mahan Air – a sanctioned Iranian airline that the US accuses of ferrying weapons and fighters for the IRGC – the primary branch of the Iranian Armed Forces. The group has been designated as a terrorist organization by Washington.
The seized jet had earlier been sold by Mahan Air to Venezuelan cargo airline Emtrasur in a transaction that “violated US export control laws and directly benefited the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” explained DOJ Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen. He added that the US was “committed to ensuring that the full force of US laws deny hostile state actors the means to engage in malign activities that threaten our national security.”
The aircraft is now being “prepared for disposition,” the DOJ said without providing further details.
Venezuela’s government has described the seizure of the plane as “blatant theft” and an act of “collusion” between the US and Argentina that violated civil aeronautics regulations as well as the “commercial, civil and political rights” of Emtrasur.
In a statement published on X by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Yvan Hill, Caracas also denounced the covert nature of the transfer, claiming that the US and Argentina had concealed information when identifying the flight and turned off the 747’s transponders several times en route to the US on Sunday.
“To circumvent the sovereignty of the countries they flew over, they omitted data from the plane in the flight plan, gave it the connotation of a military state flight (TYSON23), intermittently turned off the transponder, and took off from Argentina at midnight, to hide in darkness as criminals when they perpetrate a crime,” Venezuelan Transport Minister Ramon Araguayan wrote on social media.
Caracas has promised a “forceful, direct and proportionate response to this attack,” and said it would take “all actions to restore justice and achieve the restitution of the aircraft to its legitimate owner.”
Mahan Air has repeatedly denied having any ties to the seized aircraft.