Former Iranian-Owned Boeing Aircraft Successfully Returned to the United States

February 12, 2024

The Department of Justice today completed enforcement of a final order for forfeiture of a U.S.-manufactured Boeing 747 cargo plane, previously owned by Mahan Air, a sanctioned Iranian airline affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

On Feb. 11, the government of Argentina transferred physical custody of the aircraft to the United States pursuant to the final order of forfeiture, which was issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 3, 2023, which rests all right, title, and interest in the aircraft in the United States of America. The Boeing 747 cargo plane arrived in the Southern District of Florida where it will be prepared for disposition.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”

“Mahan Air – known to ferry weapons and fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hizballah – violated our export restrictions by selling this airplane to a Venezuelan cargo airline.  Now, it’s property of the United States government,” said Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement’s Matthew S. Axelrod. “This seized airplane’s arrival in the United States is a powerful example of our unceasing efforts to prevent Iran and its proxies from leveraging and profiting from U.S. technology.”

“The United States’ forfeiture of the Boeing 747 cargo plane culminates over 18 months of planning, coordination, and execution by the United States government and our Argentine counterparts,” said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. “Bad actors – both near and far – are on alert that the United States will use all its tools to hold those who violate our laws to account.  The successful seizure of the Boeing 747 underscores our commitment to prevent the illegal exportation of U.S. technologies and enforce U.S. export control laws.”

“Using a whole-of-government approach, we have worked with our international partners to forfeit a plane transferred by Iranian entities in violation of U.S. sanctions and export control laws,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “Foreign adversaries – seeking to illegally use American-made products to further their endeavors – need to know that the United States government will work with the international community to hold them accountable for their illegal conduct. The United States appreciates the collaboration with our Argentinian law enforcement and judicial partners.” 

“The transfer of this plane to U.S. custody is the final step in the long process to bring this case to its rightful conclusion,” said Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI's National Security Branch “The FBI, along with our federal government and international partners, used every tool under our authorities to hold the Iranian government and their affiliates accountable for violating U.S. laws.”

[A photograph of the target aircraft with the Mahan Air livery and logo on a tarmac.]

The plane was previously detained by Argentine law enforcement. On July 19, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a seizure warrant for the aircraft, which Argentine authorities promptly enforced. On Oct. 20, 2022, in support of its ongoing criminal investigation, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint alleging that the aircraft’s transfer from Mahan Air to Empresa de Transporte Aéreocargo del Sur, S.A. (EMTRASUR), a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas y Servicios Aéreos, S.A (CONVIASA), a Venezuelan state-owned company, violated U.S. export control laws. As alleged, Mahan Air was subject to a Department of Commerce Temporary Denial Order, which prohibited, among other things, Mahan Air from engaging in any transactions involving any commodity exported from the United States that is subject to the Export Administration Regulations. The complaint further alleged that the unauthorized transfer of this aircraft directly benefited the IRGC-QF.

According to court documents, the registered captain of the aircraft was an ex-commander for the IRGC and a shareholder and member of the board of a second sanctioned Iranian airline, Qeshm Fars Air, affiliated with the IRGC-QF. Argentinian law enforcement also recovered a Mahan Air flight log documenting the aircraft’s flights after the unlawful transfer to EMTRASUR and confirmed additional violations of U.S. export control laws between February and May 2022 when EMTRASUR reexported the aircraft between Caracas, Venezuela; Tehran, Iran; and Moscow, Russia, without U.S. Government authorization.  

This matter is being investigated by the Department of Commerce Bureau of Industry and Security’s Miami Field Office and the FBI Miami Field Office.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rajbir Datta for the District of Columbia, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy R. Camacho for the Southern District of Florida, and Trial Attorney Alexander Wharton of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are handling the seizure and investigation, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Brian Rickers and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick. Senior Trial Attorney John Beasley and Trial Attorney Jesse Ormsby of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; Special Agent Adam Mastriani and Task Force Officer Robert Cunniff of the FBI Miami Field Office; and Ricardo Hernandez of the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Buenos Aires provided significant assistance in working with the Argentine authorities, led by Argentine Federal Judge Federico Villena and the U.S. Marshals Service to manage the difficult logistics and coordination of the physical transfer of the Boeing aircraft from Argentina to the United States.