Maduro slams Milei after US seizes Venezuelan plane

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Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro lashed out at his Argentine counterpart Thursday, three days after the United States completed the seizure of a Venezuelan plane held in Buenos Aires since June 2022.

“They stole our plane… Milei the bandit stole the plane from Venezuela. Javier Milei, the hero of the extreme right,” Maduro said in a televised statement about the Argentine president.

“He acts crazy or he is crazy or both at the same time,” he added.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane owned by Venezuelan company Emtrasur has been held in Argentina since landing there in 2022 from Mexico with a shipment of auto parts.

The 19-member crew was comprised of Venezuelans and Iranians — one of whom the United States suspected had links to the Al Quds Force, a group of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards classified as a terrorist organization 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 which the U.S. said contravened its sanctions against both countries.

Caracas and Tehran protested U.S. attempts to seize the plane, but an Argentinian judge last month ordered it surrendered to the United States.

“The seized American-built aircraft was transferred by a sanctioned Iranian airline in a transaction that violated U.S. export control laws and directly benefited the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is a designated terrorist organization,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement this week.

“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,” added Matthew Axelrod, assistant secretary of export enforcement.

Venezuela’s foreign ministry said it would “take all actions” to have the plane returned to its “legitimate owner.”

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