Almost a month ago, an Emtrasur Boeing 747-300M landed in Ezeiza International Airport (EZE), Buenos Aires, Argentina, and triggered a geopolitical drama with terrorism accusations, fear of US sanctions, and the overall question of why there were 19 cabin crew members, including several of Iranian citizenship, in a cargo jetliner that would typically require only five members. What has happened in the last few weeks? Let’s find out.
Emtrasur’s Boeing 747-300M, registration YV3531, landed in Buenos Aires on June 6 after departing from Mexico carrying car parts. After landing, everything seemed normal until the refueling companies located at Ezeiza denied providing fuel to the Venezuelan aircraft (Emtrasur is a cargo company owned by the State carrier, Conviasa). This was the first red flag.
The second red flag came on June 8 when the crew departed towards Uruguay but was denied access to the Uruguayan airspace. They had to return to Buenos Aires, and that’s when the drama kicked in.
Paraguay raised the alarms by questioning the operations of this aircraft. On May 13, Emtrasur operated a flight to Ciudad del Este (near the tripartite border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay) and landed with 18 people onboard, seven Iranian citizens and 11 Venezuelans. Shortly after, some Argentine politicians began questioning the real reason behind Emtrasur’s visit to Buenos Aires. The local authorities searched the aircraft but found nothing.
Nonetheless, the crew was under suspicion of terrorism. According to Paraguay’s intelligence chief, one man aboard Emtrasur’s plane had ties to Iran’s Quds Force. Captain Gholamreza Ghasemy did not merely share a name with a member of the Quds Force but is, in fact, the same man, Paraguay’s intelligence chief Esteban Aquino told AFP.
Both the crew and the aircraft have been unable to leave the country. Moreover, the drama is already impacting some passenger services. There are Argentinians stranded in Cuba because Argentina is denying permission for Cubana de Aviación to operate a flight between Havana and Buenos Aires by leasing an Estelar Boeing 737 (Estelar is a Venezuelan carrier). Likewise, there are Venezuelans stranded in Buenos Aires; Conviasa can’t send an Airbus A340 to pick them up as it faces a possible seizing upon landing.
This Boeing 747 is stranded in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo: Getty Images.
One of the critical suspicions around this story is the Iranian crew. Who are they, and why were they on a Venezuelan flight to Argentina?
Earlier this week, Argentina’s state news agency reported that the five Iranian people onboard Emtrasur’s Boeing 747 are pilot instructors.
According to Emtrasur’s operation manager and finance manager, Víctor Pérez and Mario Arriaga, the five Iranian crew members function as command pilot, captain, first officer, and flight engineer instructors.
They added that these Iranian citizens were training the Venezuelan crews. Emtrasur received the Boeing 747 earlier this year after supposedly acquiring it from Iran’s State carrier Mahan Air.
There is no information on when this aircraft and the crew will be able to leave Argentina. Photo: Getty Images.
On Thursday, it was reported that the Argentine government, through its financial intelligence unit, said there was insufficient evidence to include the Emtrasur’s crew on the public registry of people and entities linked to terrorist acts and funding.
In the meantime, the aircraft and the crew remain stranded in Buenos Aires. Emtrasur’s management is stating that there is nothing illegal about its operations. They had previously flown to many more countries (including Mexico, Serbia, Russia, Aruba, Belarus, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Nigeria) without issues.
They claim that the sale of the 747 was legal and that Conviasa is the rightful owner of the aircraft.
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