Rogue Jumbo Jet Flown to Miami


A 747 Boeing Freighter was flown to Miami from Buenos Aires by U.S. Marshalls in the latest chapter of the Mahan Air Saga.  Mahan, a sanctioned Iranian airline is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

The Department of Justice completed enforcement of a final order for forfeiture of the cargo plane when on Feb. 11, the government of Argentina transferred physical custody of the aircraft to the United States pursuant to the final order of forfeiture, which was issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on May 3, 2023, which rests all right, title, and interest in the aircraft in the United States of America.

The aircraft arrived in the Southern District of Florida where it will be prepared for disposition.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

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

The plane was previously detained by Argentine law enforcement. On July 19, 2022, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued a seizure warrant for the aircraft, which Argentine authorities promptly enforced.

On Oct. 20, 2022, in support of its ongoing criminal investigation, the United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint alleging that the aircraft’s transfer from Mahan Air to Empresa de Transporte Aéreocargo del Sur, S.A. (EMTRASUR), a Venezuelan cargo airline and subsidiary of a Venezuelan state-owned company, violated U.S. export control laws.

As alleged, Mahan Air was subject to a Department of Commerce Temporary Denial Order, which prohibited, among other things, Mahan Air from engaging in any transactions involving any commodity exported from the United States that is subject to the Export Administration Regulations. The complaint further alleged that the unauthorized transfer of this aircraft directly benefited the IRGC-QF.

According to court documents, the registered captain of the aircraft was an ex-commander for the IRGC and a shareholder and member of the board of a second sanctioned Iranian airline, Qeshm Fars Air, affiliated with the IRGC-QF. Argentinian law enforcement also recovered a Mahan Air flight log documenting the aircraft’s flights after the unlawful transfer to EMTRASUR and confirmed additional violations of U.S. export control laws between February and May 2022 when EMTRASUR reexported the aircraft between Caracas, Venezuela; Tehran, Iran; and Moscow, Russia, without U.S. Government authorization.  

Storied Past for Carrier and Fleet

A temporary denial order (TDO) was first issued against Mahan Airways and associated persons in March 2008.    

According to the British High Court, three 747-400s were unlawfully taken by Mahan Air from their real owner, Blue Sky Airlines, Armenia’s flag carrier, in 2008, using forged bills of sale. When ordered to bring the aircraft back to Europe, Mahan claimed it could not do so because it was being investigated by the Iranian authorities for fraud, and the aircraft had to be kept in Iran.   

The acquisition of these aircraft in violation of EAR triggered the initial TDO, and subsequent efforts to maintain them, among the oldest 747s still in service, have contributed to the continuation of the orders.

Defunct Anglo-Persian Steel Trader Balli Group, financier of the initial 747 transaction, settled in 2010 with BIS with $15 million civil penalty and a requirement to conduct five external audits and submit related audit reports. The firm entered UK receivership in 2013.

Over the years, parties have been added and removed to the TDO, and Mahan has continued to operate the aircraft, adding numerous Airbus and BAe jets, as well as an additional US origin aircraft, an MD-82.


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