Two companies under investigation for links to Iranian-Venezuelan plane stranded in Venezuela
In June, the unusual story of a plane grounded in Argentina after a secret flight over the country’s airspace with the transponder turned off made headlines around the world. The US Department of Justice is now seeking to seize the plane, which was previously sold by Iranian Mahan Air to Venezuela’s Emtrasur, and was flying with a mixed Iranian-Venezuelan crew.
The FBI named two Spanish companies involved in the case, Zorex SA and Alcux Air Spain. Zorex SA appears to be a shadow company whose offices at Madrid 2 Stree, in Colmenar Viejo, a small town 40 km from the Spanish capital, ceased operations last year. The contact numbers and physical addresses on the Zorex website lead nowhere. Alcux Air Spain is registered in a building on the outskirts of Barcelona. But these offices also lack phone numbers, contact details, or websites. IranWire’s efforts to locate a single company representative or employee, or to locate a work number, were unsuccessful.
Argentinian judge Federico Villena is currently investigating these two entities due to past relationships with Emtrasur. Alcux, it seems, paid Emtrasur some US$600,000 to transport goods from Mexico to Argentina. The payment date corresponds to when the Venezuelan-Iranian plane landed at the Argentine airport. Zorex SA, is involved through an alleged subsidiary in the United States, having simultaneously received 780,000 USD by bank transfer from Emtrasur.
These two financial operations set off alarm bells for the FBI, which is conducting an open investigation into the flight path of the plane with its Argentine counterparts. Villena’s working hypothesis is that the US subsidiary of Zorex loaned its bank account to the Venezuelans to avoid financial sanctions while bringing goods not yet established in Argentina. The Venezuelan company Conviasa, which manages Emtrasur, is sanctioned by the American Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
Finally, earlier this month, the Argentine investigation identified a man named Juan Manuel Bataller as an administrator of Alcux. Coincidentally, he was also an agent for the other company, Zorex SA Bataller was summoned to testify by video link from Spain in the Argentinian courts, and insisted that the payments were related to basic administration of the airline. Still, Bataller, who has been the subject of two convictions by the Barcelona commercial courts and a declaration of insolvency, could not justify the use of Zorex bank accounts by Emtrasur.
Current status of the Iranian-Venezuelan aircraft
The Boeing 747-3B3(M) aircraft officially belonging to Emtrasur, registration YV3531, is still stuck at Buenos Aires airport. In early August, the Argentinian justice authorized 12 of the 19 crew members to leave the country but retained four of the Iranians – including Gholamreza Ghasemi, a former member of the IRGC – and three Venezuelans.
On August 16, HispanTV, the Spanish-language channel of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, and Spanish Russia Today both published articles highlighting the disapproving remarks of the Argentine Ambassador to Venezuela, Oscar Laborde. Laborde said that in his opinion the plane had been “hijacked” and suggested that the Argentine justice was acting only at the request of Washington. Russia Today also quoted Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, as saying the detention of the plane was a “propaganda operation” motivated by Tehran’s nuclear policy. HispanTV, describing the aircraft as “abducted”, further quoted Laborde: “There are many interested parties who want this to be a fight.”
Laborde’s comments drew widespread criticism, especially in the Argentine press last week. In an apparent effort of calm, government spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti described him as “an excellent ambassador who has been fulfilling his task for a very short time”.
But she added: “The plane is Iranian. In fact, he is a Venezuelan of Iranian origin, bought from the Iranian government.