US says it’s taken possession of Boeing 747 Iran illegally sold to Venezuelan firm

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. government has seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane that officials say was previously sold by a sanctioned Iranian airline to a state-owned Venezuelan firm in violation of American export control laws.

The Justice Department said Monday that the American-built plane had arrived in Florida and would be disposed of.

The plane had earlier been transferred from Iranian airline Mahan Air — which officials have alleged provides support for Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force — to Emtrasur, a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of a state-owned firm that had previously been sanctioned by the United State. Officials said the sale, done without U.S. government authorization, violated export control laws and also improperly benefited Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

Mahan Air has for years been subject to U.S. government restrictions on its business.

“The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that the full force of U.S. laws deny hostile state actors the means to engage in malign activities that threaten our national security,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, the head of the department’s national security division, said in a statement.

The plane was detained in June 2022 by Argentine law enforcement, and U.S. officials moved several weeks later to take possession of it. Argentina officially transferred custody of the plane to the U.S. on Sunday, officials said.

The Justice Department said the plane would now be “prepared for disposition,” though it did not elaborate.

The Justice Department has identified the registered captain of the plane as an ex-commander for the Revolutionary Guard. Officials also cited a flight log they say was recovered that shows additional flights after the transfer to Emtrasur to locations including Moscow, Caracas and Tehran — all without U.S. government approval.

Mahan Air has denied any ties to the aircraft, and Venezuela has demanded that Argentine authorities release the plane.

On Sunday, members of a Venezuelan-led, left-leaning alliance condemned Argentina for its role in the plane being seized by the U.S., characterizing the actions as “theft.” The Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Our America — Peoples’ Trade Treaty argued that the actions violate international law.

“This aggression is another consequence of the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the government of the United States that threaten the sovereignty of Venezuela and violate the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter and International Law,” the group, commonly known as the Alba Alliance, said in a statement.

The alliance was created in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba in a bid to counter U.S. influence in the region. Nicaragua, Bolivia and some Caribbean nations are among its current members.

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Associated Press writer Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas contributed to this report.

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