Argentina and Paraguay probe grounded 747 over terrorism links

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Authorities in Argentina and Paraguay are trying to shed light on the mystery of a jumbo jet surrounding a cargo plane carrying Iranian and Venezuelan crews that has been grounded outside Buenos Aires for more than two weeks.

Prosecutors in the two South American countries have launched investigations to find out whether the crew members – 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians – have links to international terrorism or other illegal activities.

Cecilia Incardona, the prosecutor leading the case in Argentina, is focusing her investigation on the Iranian pilot, Gholamreza Ghasemi, and his possible links to international terrorism.

The FBI said in a report to Argentine federal judge Federico Villena, who presides over the case, that Ghasemi is CEO of Qeshm Fars Air, which according to the US Treasury Department provides material support to the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. and the Iranian airline. Mahan Air, according to a document released this week by the Incardona office.

During the preliminary investigation of the plane, “numerous traces have emerged that make it necessary to continue with the investigation” of Ghasemi, the rest of the plane’s crew and its cargo, Incardona said in the document.

Incardona went on to say that the “irregular conditions” surrounding the plane created the need to investigate “whether the real purpose of the plane’s arrival in our country was solely to transport auto parts” or whether it was really “preparation.” was to provide goods or money that could be used for terrorist activities, their financing or organization.”

The plane is operated by Venezuela’s state-owned Emtrasur Line, a subsidiary of Conviasa, which is under US sanctions.

Before it was sold to Emtrasur a year ago, the plane was owned by Mahan Air of Iran, which the US government has sanctioned for allegedly aiding the Quds Force and terrorist activities.

Incardona said the investigation should now determine whether Mahan Air still has a link to the Boeing 747-300.

Mahan Air has publicly denied any links to the plane and Venezuela has demanded that Argentine authorities release it.

The plane was carrying cargo for several Argentine auto parts companies which it loaded in Mexico before stopping in Caracas and arriving in Argentina on June 6.

The plane has been grounded in a hangar in Ezeiza just outside Buenos Aires since June 8, when Argentine authorities seized the crew members’ passports.

The crew is also under investigation in Paraguay, where the plane landed last month, Attorney General Sandra Quiñónez said. The investigation was opened after René Fernández, a former prosecutor who heads Paraguay’s National Anti-Corruption Secretariat, called for an investigation into the plane, which spent three days in Ciudad del Este, near the border with Argentina.

There are suspicions that the plane’s cargo was “a facade” that hid the real reason for his stay in Paraguay, Fernández told a local television network.

Paraguayan intelligence chief Esteban Aquino told an Argentine radio station on Monday that they were especially concerned when they learned that the plane had disabled its transponder on several segments of its flights.

The plane’s unusually large crew also raised suspicions in Paraguay, but it wasn’t until after the plane left the country to transport cigarettes to Aruba that officials learned it “belonged to an Iranian company suspended under US Department of State sanctions.” Finance”, the Minister of the Interior of Paraguay. Federico González said earlier this month.

The Israeli embassy in Uruguay expressed “concern” on Wednesday about the plane “until recently used by the Iranian company Mahan Air”.

In a press release, the embassy said some Iranian crew members were “directly involved in arms trafficking to Syria and the terrorist organization Hezbollah from Lebanon.”

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