By Robert Kim
August 17, 2022
Earlier this month, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and the Department of Justice announced coordinated actions against the Venezuela-based cargo airline Empresa de Transporte Aéreocargo del Sur, S.A. (EMTRASUR). The actions, announced on August 2, were in response to the transfer of a U.S.-origin Boeing 747 from the sanctioned Iranian airline Mahan Air to EMTRASUR in violation of U.S. export controls, as well as EMTRASUR’s export control violations related to flying the aircraft between Venezuela, Iran, and Russia.
Mahan Air and EMTRASUR
Mahan Air, designated by the Treasury Department in 2011 for providing support to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), has been on the BIS’s Denied Persons List since 2008.
- BIS’s Temporary Denial Order (TDO) against Mahan Air, renewed since 2008, prohibits Mahan Air and any related parties from participating in any way in transactions involving items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR).
- Third parties are also prohibited from engaging with Mahan Air in a broad range of conduct such as flying an aircraft subject to the EAR internationally.
In October 2021, Mahan Air transferred to EMTRASUR a Boeing 747-300M that it had owned and operated since 2007, in violation of the TDO, according to an affidavit filed by the FBI in support of a seizure warrant in July.
- EMTRASUR was not sanctioned as of August 17.
- EMTRASUR’s parent company, the Venezuelan state-owned company Consorcio Venezolano de Industrias Aeronáuticas Y Servicios Aéreos, S.A. (CONVIASA), was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2020 along with its fleet of aircraft.
EMTRASUR operated the Boeing Aircraft on flights between Caracas, Tehran, and Moscow between February and May 2022, documented in a Mahan Air flight log found on the aircraft by Argentinian authorities in June, according to the affidavit.
- In June, the Government of Argentina detained the aircraft and its crew of 19, which included five Iranians.
The captain was identified as Gholamreza Ghasemi, an ex-commander for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and a shareholder and director of the Mahan Air-controlled airline Qeshm Fars Air, designated in 2019 for facilitating IRGC-QF activities in Syria.
Coordinated BIS and DOJ Actions
BIS and DOJ announced coordinated enforcement actions on August 2.
BIS issued a TDO suspending the export privileges of EMTRASUR for 180 days, citing:
EMTRASUR’s acquisition of the Boeing 747 from Mahan Air, an action prohibited by the TDO against Mahan Air; and
EMTRASUR’s use of the Boeing 747 for flights into Iran and Russia, violating General Prohibition 10 of the EAR
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that it had transmitted a request to the Government of Argentina to seize the Boeing 747 following the unsealing of a seizure warrant issued on July 19.
“Today’s coordinated actions target the unlawful transfer of an Iranian cargo plane to a Venezuelan airline and the airline’s subsequent operation of that plane in violation of our rules,” stated the Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement. “We will continue to take significant and direct enforcement action against foreign airlines operating U.S.-origin aircraft in violation of U.S. export controls.”