A Boeing 747-300FM owned by Venezuela’s Emtrasur Cargo but detained in Argentina has been brought to the US after a judge ruled it should be surrendered to US authorities over allegations of sanction violations. 

An order of forfeiture was first issued for the aircraft in May 2023 over allegations that the sale of the plane by Iranian airline Mahan Air, currently sanctioned by the US, to Emtrasur went against US sanctions and export control laws. 

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) confirmed the forfeiture of the aircraft on Monday after some had observed the arrival of the plane in Florida on flight tracking applications. 

Matthew Olsen, assistant attorney general of the DoJ’s National Security division, said: “The seized American-built aircraft was transferred by a sanctioned Iranian airline in a transaction that violated U.S. export control laws and directly benefited the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is a designated terrorist organization. 

“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.” 

The aircraft first came into controversy when it was refused entry into Uruguay’s airspace over accusations of inconsistencies around a high number of crew members being on board, forcing it to return to Ezeiza International Airport in Argentina where it was subsequently detained. 

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While the large number of crew, 19 compared to the usual five, was explained as being down to needing Iranian flight instructors to train Venezuelan crew on the rare aircraft, the US has accused the aircraft captain of being a former commander for the Revolutionary Guard. 

Nevertheless, the US’ seizing of the aircraft has attracted condemnation from Venezuela, with President Nicolas Maduro’s administration describing it as “blatant theft” and a “shameful” operation and vowing to take action to return the plane to Emtrasur. 

A statement published by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Yván Gil said: “Venezuela denounces, before the ICAO, the violation, by both aforementioned governments, of the international regulations to which States are obliged in matters of air navigation, which generates a serious situation of unprecedented legal and operational insecurity in our region. 
“Among the crimes committed, the concealment of information when identifying the flight, turning off the transponder on several sections of the route and others that must be investigated independently have been observed.”