Argentine judge allows some crew of grounded Venezuela plane to depart

Buenos Aires (AFP) – An Argentine judge investigating the Iranian and Venezuelan crew of a cargo plane that has been grounded in Buenos Aires since June authorized the departure of 12 of them on Monday, local media reported.


Federal judge Federico Villena did however order seven of the 19 to be retained in Argentina, the reports said, including four Iranians and three Venezuelans.

According to the ruling disclosed by the press, the judge considered that there were still elements to be investigated pertaining to Iranian Gholamrez Ghasemi, designated by the Argentine intelligence service as a member of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, as well as three other Iranians and three Venezuelans.

The plane in question arrived in Argentina from Mexico on June 6, with 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians on board, before trying to fly to Uruguay two days later, where it was refused entry.

Uruguay's Interior Minister Luis Alberto Heber said his country had received a "formal warning from Paraguayan intelligence."

The plane then returned to Argentina where it has been grounded ever since.

The aircraft belongs to the company Emtrasur, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan Conviasa, which is under sanctions from the US Treasury Department. It was bought a year ago from the Iranian airline Mahan Air, which the United States has accused of links to the Revolutionary Guards.

The Iranian connections are sensitive for Argentina, which has issued warrants for a number of former Iranian leaders for the 1994 attack against the AMIA Jewish center that left 85 dead and some 300 injured.

Ten days ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian asked the Argentine diplomatic representative in Tehran for an "immediate" lifting of the ban on the five Iranian crew members leaving the country.

Before its trip to Argentina, the plane had been in Paraguay in May, from where it took a shipment of cigarettes to the Caribbean island of Aruba, according to its manifest.