The Argentine justice accepted a request from the United States and ordered this Thursday the seizure of the plane of the Venezuelan airline Emtrasur held since June 8 in Buenos Aires. The Boeing 747 will now be under the control of federal judge Federico Villena and his counterpart from the District of Columbia, Michael Harvey, who is investigating an alleged violation of export control laws applied by the White House to countries considered suspected of terrorism. The plane belonged to the Mahan Air airline, which was not authorized to sell it to third parties because it has been under US sanctions since 2008. Emtrasur could not buy it without authorization either. The judicial escalation further fuels the diplomatic tension between Buenos Aires and Caracas, which considers the retention of the plane a “kidnapping” and the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, a “puppet of the empire.”
After the judicial seizure, FBI agents appeared at the Ezeiza international airport, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, inspected the Venezuelan aircraft and drew up the inventory requested by Judge Harvey. Judge Villena also authorized the US Marshals Service, in charge of transporting federal prisoners, to coordinate the custody and maintenance of the plane. Argentina and the United States have a mutual judicial collaboration treaty that does not require that the facts investigated be a crime in both jurisdictions at the same time. Hence, Judge Villena has considered “appropriate” the request that came from Columbia through the Argentine Ministry of Justice.
Villena decided, however, to process it as a separate file from the mother case, which investigates the 19 crew members of the aircraft —14 Venezuelans and five Iranians— for alleged links to terrorism. The unfolding of the procedure leaves Venezuela and the state company Conviasa, owner of Emtrasur’s Boeing 747, without the ability to appeal.
The main file must determine if the objective of some members of the crew was different from that communicated in the trip plan. The plane was carrying auto parts from a multinational and the cargo was delivered, but a complaint from the Delegation of Argentine Israelite Associations (DAIA) put its eye on the five Iranians on board. His presence disturbed the Jewish community of the South American country, which asked for clarification if they had links with some of those accused of the 1994 attack that destroyed the AMIA headquarters in Buenos Aires, leaving 85 dead.
The retention of Emtrasur’s Boeing 747 has deteriorated bilateral relations between Caracas and Buenos Aires. This Thursday, shouting “return the plane and the crew”, Chavismo organized a protest in front of the Argentine embassy in the Venezuelan capital. The case is already part of the propaganda machinery of the great Chavismo media, and has been commented on several times with irritation by important revolutionary leaders in declarations and legislative debates. The label #ReturnThePlane is being promoted on state television, Venezolana de Televisión, in a spot that is accompanied by an energetic speech by Nicolás Maduro questioning “imperialism.”
#11Aug Together with the deputies of the National Assembly and the working class, we submitted a document to the Argentine embassy in Venezuela to demand #ReturnThePlane we will not rest until justice is done with the crew and the plane pic.twitter.com/W66bbUIOJT
– Ramón Celestino Velásquez Araguayán (@rvaraguayan) August 11, 2022
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At the concentration of the Argentine embassy in Caracas, the Minister of Transport of Venezuela, Ramón Velásquez, was present, along with several pro-government deputies, and workers from the state airline Conviasa participated. The minister was received by the Argentine ambassador, Oscar Laborde, who has just taken office in Caracas. “We hope that the truth prevails, that the Argentine justice system reacts,” said Velásquez.
“Now they want to seize a plane from us in Argentina due to a decision by a court in the State of Florida,” Maduro previously complained. “In other words, from now on a court in Florida or New York decides to take a ship, an airplane or any property from Venezuela or from any country and can do so. Is there no sovereign domain? Is there no respect for sovereignty? Is there no respect for international law or is it that the United States courts rule in Argentina?” added the president.
The anger of Caracas has increased rapidly in recent days, although there was still no official statement from the Venezuelan government once the judicial seizure decision was known. Argentina did not respond directly to the Venezuelan accusations. On Wednesday, in a meeting with journalists at the headquarters of the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires, the undersecretary for Latin American Affairs, Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, told this newspaper that “the issue of the plane does not alter the link with Venezuela at all.” . “It is a judicial issue and the Executive Branch does not have much to do. We’re not going to mess with it,” he said. “The link with Venezuela is normalized, we made the decision to raise the relationship to the level of ambassadors, what is said is up to the person who says it,” he added.
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