The Venezuelan crew of a cargo plane grounded at Ezeiza International Airport last week may not leave Argentina, a judge ruled Tuesday after their hotel was raided in a probe into possible Iran terror links.
Police searched the 14 Venezuelan and five Iranian crew members' rooms the day after officials raised suspicions of a link to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which is listed as a terror group by the United States.
The Iranian crew had already had their passports temporarily seized, and on Tuesday the Venezuelans had their freedom curtailed after police seized mobile phones, computers and documents in the seven-hour hotel raid.
A Venezuelan Boeing 747 cargo plane reportedly carrying car parts came in from Mexico to land in Córdoba, Argentina, on Monday last week, then tried to travel to neighbouring Uruguay, but was denied entry and returned to Ezeiza outside Buenos Aires where it has been grounded since last Wednesday.
The plane belongs to Emtrasur, a subsidiary of Venezuela's Conviasa, which is under US sanctions.
Police did not comment on the reason for the hotel search, but on Monday, Security Minister Aníbal Fernandez said information had been received from "foreign organisations" that some among the crew may be linked to companies with ties to the Revolutionary Guards, Iran's ideological army.
Fernández said a smaller crew had been reported on the flight log than the number actually on the plane.
Also Tuesday, Paraguay said two officials who had authorised the landing of the plane there in May had been dismissed and two anti-drug agents were under investigation.
Interior Minister Federico González said the plane landed in Paraguay on a "commercial" entry permit with 18 crew – a number that raised suspicion.
It spent nearly three days at the Guaraní international airport near the borders with Argentina and Brazil before departing on May 16 for the Caribbean island of Aruba with a load of Paraguayan cigarettes.
After it left, "we received a communication that the aircraft is sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department and that seven of the crew members are members of the Al Quds forces [of the Guards] and that the United States has them on a list of terrorists," said the minister.
Paraguay alerted the intelligence services of other countries in the region.
Iran said Monday that Argentina's move was part of a "propaganda" campaign against Tehran amid tensions with Western countries over negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
The grounding of the cargo plane came days before Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visited Tehran on Saturday for the allies, both subject to US sanctions, to sign a 20-year cooperation pact.
Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the plane was sold by Iran's Mahan Air to a Venezuelan company last year.
Mahan Air is accused by the United States of links with the Revolutionary Guards.
Interpol has arrest warrants out for former Iranian leaders suspected of involvement in an attack on a Jewish center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people and injured hundreds.