Venezuela Denounces US ‘Blatant Theft’ of Cargo Plane

The Venezuelan government says the extraction of the Emtrasur aircraft adds to a long list of assets illegally seized by the US government.
The Boeing 747-300 was confiscated in Argentina in June 2022, leading to a legal battle with Venezuela for its recovery. (Photo: Archive)

Caracas, February 13, 2022 ( – The US government has completed the seizure of Venezuela’s state-owned Boeing 747-300 cargo plane that had been grounded in Argentina for 18 months on a US request.

On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced that it had taken physical custody of the Venezuelan aircraft from the Argentinian authorities. The plane was transferred from the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires and arrived in Florida via a special ferry flight TYSON23, where it will be “prepared for disposition.” 

The aircraft is reportedly set to be dismantled.

In a statement issued on Monday, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Yván Gil called the plane’s transfer a “blatant theft” and a “shameful plunder operation” that added to a long list of seized or frozen Venezuelan assets. Among them, the US $10-13 billion-worth oil subsidiary CITGO and a number of bank accounts as part of the sanctions regime against the Caribbean country.

Caracas likewise accused the Argentina government of “colluding” with the US to violate international aeronautics regulations by allegedly turning off the plane’s transponder in various parts of the route to conceal the flight.

“The Venezuelan state will take all actions to restore justice and achieve the restitution of the aircraft to its legitimate owner,” read the communique.

The Boeing 747-300 is a 36-year-old aircraft owned by Venezuelan company Emtrasur, a subsidiary of state airline Conviasa. The cargo plane was purchased in January 2022 from Iran’s privately owned Mahan Air and it counted on technical assistance from Iranian nationals as part of the sales contract.

With a reported 90-tonne, 600 cubic-meter capacity, the plane was reportedly being used by Emtrasur for cargo shipments from countries like China and India to Venezuela, and to deliver humanitarian aid to Caribbean countries. 

On June 6, 2022, the Venezuelan aircraft arrived in Buenos Aires with some 50 tonnes of auto parts from Mexico to be delivered to Argentinian factories. Two days later, the airplane was controversially denied permission to land and refuel in Montevideo, Uruguay, while in midair. It was forced to return to the Argentinian capital, where it was grounded by local authorities following a request from Washington. The crew, comprised of 14 Venezuelans and five Iranians, also had its passports seized.

In October 2022, the US State Department alleged that the sale of the aircraft to Venezuela by Mahan Air violated its sanctions on Tehran and export control laws. It also claimed that one Iranian on board the plane was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, an organization Washington designates as “terrorist.” However, the claim was never proven.

The US went on to claim that the acquisition violated its sanctions on Venezuela’s Conviasa. In 2020, the US sanctioned the Venezuelan airline and several other state companies as part of efforts to oust the Maduro government.

“Mahan Air – known to ferry weapons and fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah – violated our export restrictions by selling this airplane to a Venezuelan cargo airline. Now, it’s property of the United States government,” said US Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement Matthew S. Axelrod in a statement on Monday.

For its part, US Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida said that the “successful seizure” of the Boeing 747 “underscores our commitment to prevent the illegal exportation of US technologies and puts ‘bad actors’ on alert.”

Since 2022, several judicial investigations on the plane, its cargo and its crew yielded no irregularities but the airplane remained grounded in Argentina while crew members were later released. On January 4, 2024, Argentinian Judge Federico Villena ordered the plane to be surrendered to US custody following the arrival of far-right President Javier Milei.

Under US sanctions, Tehran and Caracas have strengthened their alliance and expanded political and economic ties. In July 2022, the countries signed a 20-year cooperation deal.

On Tuesday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani condemned Washington’s “illegal seizure” of the Venezuelan cargo plane and announced its “decisive support” for Venezuela’s legal and diplomatic efforts to regain possession.

“Washington’s illicit act of seizing and transferring the Boeing 747-300 plane belonging to Venezuelan company Emtrasur is a hijacking and comes as a result of unilateral coercive measures from the North American country,” Kanaani told the local press.