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Maduro: US wants to ‘steal’ Venezuelan plane grounded in Argentina

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has condemned a call by the United States for Argentina to seize a Venezuelan cargo plane that has been grounded in Buenos Aires for nearly two months, saying Washington wants to “steal” the aircraft.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane, owned by the Venezuelan company Emtrasur, was grounded with its 19 crew members, five Iranians and 14 Venezuelans, in Argentina on June 8. The aircraft arrived at a Buenos Aires airport from Mexico with a shipment of auto parts after having tried unsuccessfully to enter Uruguay.

Emtrasur is a subsidiary of Venezuela’s flag carrier Conviasa. The company bought the plane from Iran’s Mahan Air more than a year ago. Both airlines have resisted unilateral American sanctions in recent years by flying to various regional and international destinations.

The US Justice Department, however, says the purchase by Emtrasur was an “unauthorized transfer.” Claiming that US “export control laws” were violated, a US court in the District of Columbia issued an order to seize the plane on July 19.

On Wednesday, Maduro slammed the US request to have the plane seized.

“They intend to steal from us a plane owned by Venezuela, legally owned by Venezuela... after kidnapping it for two months. Venezuela voices its protest and asks the Argentine people for all their support to recover that plane,” Maduro said on state television.

Two days earlier, an Argentine judge issued an order authorizing the departure of 12 of the 19 crew members. The move came a few days after Iran summoned the top representative in Argentina’s diplomatic mission in Tehran to file a strong complaint about the detention of the Iranians in Buenos Aires.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has reiterated that the presence of the Iranian trainers on board the Venezuelan plane had been in accordance with international aviation regulations and there were no legal grounds for continued detention of the crew in Argentina.

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