Exclusive: Pilot of seized Venezuela plane reveals detention details
A pilot of the seized Venezuelan Boeing 747 held in Argentina, tells Al Mayadeen Espanol precise details about how the plane was seized.
Iranian Master Flight Instructor, Gholamreza Ghasemi, the master pilot of the Venezuelan Boeing 747 plane that was seized in Argentina on June 8, told Al Mayadeen Espanol, in an exclusive interview conducted by Madelein Garcia, details about the incident.
Q: When the Venezuelan plane was held in Argentina, the media accused the crew of allegedly being linked to terrorism. Who is Captain Gholamreza Ghasemi? What roles did the five Iranians play aboard the Emtrasur plane?
A: I am a Master flight instructor and the main pilot of the Boeing 747 aircraft and I have an international certificate from the Iranian Aviation Organization.
The number of crew members has been the subject of much questioning here. I had informed the Argentinian authorities that there were two Venezuelan crews participating in training.
On the first day, the Argentinians didn't say anything and everything was normal. When we entered Argentina and the shipment was unloaded and we wanted to leave, everything was still normal.
We entered Argentina with a passport paper and according to international laws, and we left with the same paper and there was no problem.
Later, the Argentinian authorities said that they would not supply us with fuel for the plane. Since that day, there have been a series of problems that the Argentinians used as a pretext to justify their action. We have been in Argentina for almost 90 days and we still don't know what the problem is.
Q: Captain Ghasemi was not a military man as reported by the media. Could the time he spent in military service be understood as a crime?
A: My country had been in a state of war with Iraq for about 40 years. In my country, there is an institution called the Basij Popular Mobilization Forces, and it has existed from that time until now. All Iranian people wore military uniforms and defended their land.
Q: The media demonized the Iranian crew. Do you believe that being a flight instructor is a crime?
A: From my point of view, no, but from the point of view of the people here, I don't know. I am a Master flight instructor, and I have submitted my supporting documents to the lawyer. I've been flying different types of aircraft for 20 years, and I've been flying a Boeing 747 for about six years.
Q: Spare parts for automobiles were transported on the plane and there was nothing irregular in the 130 actions of the investigation. What are they accusing you of?
A: The matter is still not clear to me, because my personal lawyer has not yet told me anything specific.
In the early days, they used to ask us: "What kind of cargo do you have?" They said they were concerned about the cargo we were transporting, which the judge ruled two or three weeks ago that there was no problem with and was cleared through customs control.
Q: If there is no crime, why are you still held in Argentina? Do you believe in justice in this country?
A: Of course, we must respect the laws of each country and this is our duty. For this reason, we are waiting to see what will be decided by the Argentine judiciary.
I am glad that many Argentine officials said in interviews that "these people have no problem and no pending case and they can leave the country." However, the laws must be respected until the judiciary officially pronounces its decision.
I am not a politician and I do not know what is happening. The only thing I know is that we must respect the laws and wait for the court's decision and the judicial authorities.
Q: How does it feel to be away from family?
A: I don't feel well at all. When a person is away from his family, this causes the family pain and anguish. I hope that this case will be concluded very soon by the Argentine courts and judiciary.
Q: Has any crime been committed?
A: There is no crime. As I said at the beginning, I am a Master flight instructor. The documents that prove this were on the plane and were handed over to the judiciary of the Argentine government.
I have not committed a crime. I believe it is related to the laws of this country; they may have caused some misunderstanding. We are waiting for the Argentine authorities to verify the documents that are in their possession and soon have an answer.
Q: What do your Venezuelan colleagues mean to you?
A: I believe that I am with the best Venezuelan colleagues. We have been working together for a long time and went on different trips together. It is very good that we are here together. However, all of us are far away from our families and children, and this is very bad.
Q: What would you say to the people of Argentina?
A: I say to the people of Argentina, the decision is yours. We have entered your country as a group; have we perhaps done something wrong? Have we not entered according to the rules and laws?
Even on the second day when we were leaving, we acted under Argentina's departure laws, we even boarded the plane.
I say to the Argentine people that the verdict is yours. When we entered Argentina, we came to the hotel, and on the second day, we left. What mistake have we committed?
We entered the country according to the regulations of the Argentine government and we had an entry permit. On the next day, when we wanted to leave, we arrived according to the laws of the country, went through passport control, and got on the plane to return.
If we had been supplied with fuel, we would have left the country and nothing would have happened.
On the second day, when we flew to Uruguay, we had permission to enter and land in its territory, because the authorities had granted us an entering permit by email. However, the moment we wanted to enter the country's airspace, everything was canceled.
What is the crime that we have committed if we have left this country in a legal manner? We left Argentina and had to return from Uruguay's airspace because we were denied entry. The next day, they treated us as if we had committed a crime, and to this day we still don't know what crime we committed.
I have never witnessed a case anywhere in the world where a country grants permission for planes to fly in its airspace and an entry permit, and suddenly cancels them in the middle of a flight. This is the first time I've seen something like this in 20 years.
Q: What do you think about Uruguay's act?
A: I believe that my flight permit was revoked, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), in which Venezuelan civil aviation organizations are listed as members. The Venezuelan authorities must follow up on the matter to find out the reason that prompted Uruguay to treat us this way.
Legally, we have been granted a written permit to enter Uruguay's territory and airspace. The law states that if you submit a request to enter a country, this country may or may not grant you permission.
The Uruguayan authorities confirmed our request and granted us permission, gave us a number, and allowed us to enter their airspace based on that permission.
Q: What message would you convey to the Argentine government and judiciary?
A: I tell the government of Argentina and the judicial authorities that each person who boarded this flight was part of the crew, and none of them committed any mistake on this flight.
These people respected the laws of Argentina, entered, and left the country according to these laws. If it weren't for the fuel problem, each one of these people would have been with their family today. I ask you to rectify this matter as soon as possible in order for these people to be reunited with their families again.
Q: Almost three months have passed and nobody knows what they are accusing you of. Do you know?
A: I don't know what the issue is either. I only receive information through my lawyer. We could only contact the lawyer and it is he who has been informing us about the progress of the case.
Q: The media pointed out that the plane's cargo had weapons.
A: Some media here mentioned that the cargo on our plane was military. But I denied this information and told them that we only transported automotive spare parts.
Washington asked Argentina to confiscate the Venezuelan plane
The Boeing 747-300M cargo was detained in Argentina in June. The airplane was transporting automobile parts, and no contraband or suspicious cargo was found during the search.
Two months later, Washington asked Argentina to seize the Venezuelan cargo plane that has been parked since June on its soil and is linked to the US sanctions against Iran.
The case file stated that the plane was under the control of Venezuela's Emtrasur, which allowed "the re-export of the aircraft between Caracas, Venezuela, Tehran, Iran, and Moscow, Russia, without the permission of the US government."
The Boeing 747 was sold to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan company Conviasa, by an Iranian company, Mahan Air, in October 2021. The two countries have signed a 20-year cooperation plan as a way to overcome the sanctions imposed against them by the US.
Both the previous Iranian owner of the Boeing 747 as well as the Venezuelan owner of the plane have been sanctioned by the US for different reasons. The US Department of Justice used this pretext to justify its request from Argentina to confiscate the plane.
On his account, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had pushed for the return of the Boeing 747-300M transport aircraft detained in Argentina.
"Now they intend to steal our plane, as they stole our gold in London, as they stole from us [oil refinery in the United States] Citgo, steal a plane belonging to Venezuela ... We declare our protest that the Venezuelan plane be returned to us," Maduro said on the VTV channel.
In an exclusive interview for Al Mayadeen Espanol, Mario Araga, one of the detained crew members, appeared to express his shock after discovering that the FBI is accountable for his detention, wondering if Argentina lacks its proper governmental investigative body.
Araga stressed that there is no evidence against the plane's crew members, recalling that at one point, he and his colleagues were informed that the United States was on the front lines and behind what was going on with them.
Inch closer to a return home
On his part, Mohammad Khosravi Aragh, an Iranian mechanical engineer and crew member, had assured that "all legal stages will be carried out in the best way possible so that we and our Venezuelan colleagues can return to our country."
"We are doing well. We are ok. Thank you very much for your interest in our cause," he cheerfully concluded.