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LATIN AMERICA | 03-01-2024 16:18

Court in Argentina orders surrender of grounded Venezuela plane to United States

Caracas reacts angrily to court ruling “robbery” ordering that seized Venezuelan cargo plane be handed over to US authorities.

A federal judge has approved the transfer of a grounded Venezuelan plane to US authorities, Argentina’s Justice Ministry confirmed on Wednesday – the latest twist in a long-running judicial and diplomatic saga also involving Iran.

Caracas reacted angrily to the move, describing it as a “robbery” of state property.

From Buenos Aires, federal judge Federico Villena ordered "the maintenance and securing of the plane, the custody of the plane, that the plane be put in condition and the definitive seizure in favour of the United States justice system," Justice Ministry sources confirmed to the AFP news agency.

Referring to previous court rulings, Judge Villena said that “everyone has decided in different instances that the plane has to go to the United States.”

The Boeing 747 cargo plane owned by Venezuelan company Emtrasur has been held in Argentina since landing there in June 2022 from Mexico with a shipment of auto parts, after having tried unsuccessfully to enter Uruguay.

The 19-member crew was comprised of Venezuelans and Iranians – one of whom the United States alleged had links to the Al Quds Force, a group of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States.

All the crew were initially detained but later freed.

The plane was sold to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of state airline Conviasa, by Iran's Mahan Air in October 2021 in what the US said contravened its sanctions against both countries.

Caracas and Tehran have protested US attempts to seize the plane, and asked Argentina for backing. Up until now, the aircraft has not been moved.

Shortly after the ruling was known, Venezuela’s government denounced the decision, branding it an attempt to "consummate the theft of a Venezuelan aircraft.”

President Nicolás Maduro’s government "categorically rejects and condemns the decision, which is clearly subservient to imperial interests,” the Foreign Ministry in Caracas said in a post on the X (former Twitter) social network.

"Venezuela has demonstrated, before all international legal and political bodies, the legal and legitimate possession of the aforementioned aircraft," it added.

"The Argentine government and justice system's conduct of pillage, piracy and vassalage transgresses its own legislation and turns the country into a serious violator of international law," it claimed.

Last weekend, the Maduro administration denounced the theft of its property after reporting in Argentina suggested a new ruling was imminent.

“They intend to rob us of a plane that is legally the property of Venezuela in Argentina under the order of an imperialistic court,” said Maduro in 2022.


– TIMES/AFP

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