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The U.S. Department of Justice transmitted a request to Argentinian authorities today to seize a Boeing 747-300M cargo plane following the unsealing of a seizure warrant in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The warrant, which was issued on July 19, 2022, alleges that the U.S.-made plane is subject to forfeiture based on violations of U.S. export control laws related to the unauthorized transfer of the plane from Mahan Air, an Iranian airline affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a designated terrorist organization, and 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.
In 2008, the Department of Commerce issued, and has since periodically renewed, a Temporary Denial Order prohibiting Mahan Air from, among other things, engaging in any transaction involving any commodity exported from the United States that is subject to the Export Administration Regulations. As alleged in the seizure warrant, in or around October 2021, Mahan Air violated the Temporary Denial Order and U.S. export control laws when it transferred custody and control of the Boeing aircraft to EMTRASUR without U.S. Government authorization. Additional violations of U.S. export control laws subsequently occurred between February and May 2022 when EMTRASUR reexported the aircraft between Caracas, Venezuela; Tehran, Iran; and Moscow, Russia, without U.S. Government authorization.
Further, as alleged in the seizure warrant, in June 2022, Argentinian authorities detained the flight crew of the Boeing aircraft, including five Iranians. The registered captain of the aircraft was identified as an ex-commander for the IRGC and a shareholder and member of the board of Iranian airline Qeshm Fars Air. Argentinian law enforcement also searched the aircraft and found a Mahan Air flight log documenting the aircraft’s flights after the unlawful transfer to EMTRASUR, including a flight to Tehran, Iran, in April 2022. Mahan Air was designated in 2011 by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) for providing material support to the IRGC-QF, and Qeshm Fars Air was designated in 2019 for being controlled by Mahan Air and for providing material support to the IRGC-QF.
In addition, CONVIASA, EMTRASUR’s parent company, was designated by OFAC in 2020, and its fleet was blocked pursuant to Executive Order in 2019. Concurrent with today’s action, the Department of Commerce issued a Temporary Denial Order denying the export privileges of EMTRASUR for 180 days with the possibility of renewal.
“The Department of Justice will not tolerate transactions that violate our sanctions and export laws,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Working with our partners across the globe, we will give no quarter to governments and state-sponsored entities looking to evade our sanctions and export control regimes in service of their malign activities.”
“The seizure of this aircraft demonstrates our determination to hold accountable those who seek to violate U.S. sanctions and export control laws,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia. “We will aggressively seek to prevent sanctioned entities from gaining access to America-made items or profiting from their illegal transfer. Working with our federal and international partners, we will be unflagging in our efforts to bring to justice those who violate these sanctions and to seize assets where appropriate and lawful.”
“Today’s coordinated actions target the unlawful transfer of an Iranian cargo plane to a Venezuelan airline and the airline’s subsequent operation of that plane in violation of our rules,” said Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security. “We will continue to take significant and direct enforcement action against foreign airlines operating U.S.-origin aircraft in violation of U.S. export controls.”
“This seizure demonstrates the FBI’s persistence in using all of our tools to hold the Iranian Government and affiliated individuals and companies accountable when they violate U.S. laws,” said Acting Assistant Director of Counterterrorism Kevin Vorndran of the FBI. “The FBI, along with our international partners, will continue to seek out those individuals who contribute to the advancement of Iran’s malign activities and ensure they are brought to justice, regardless of where, or how, they attempt to hide.”
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 of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andy Camacho of the Southern District of Florida, and Trial Attorney Elizabeth Abraham of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are handling the seizure and investigation, with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Brian Rickers and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in working with the Argentinian authorities.