February 12, 2024

DOJ obtains custody of forfeited Iranian aircraft

In October 2011, the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Mahan Air, an Iranian airline, pursuant to Executive Order 13224.  At that time, OFAC asserted that the Mahan had transported operatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), weapons, equipment, and funds for the IRGC-QF, Hizbollah, and the regime of Hafez al-Assad in Syria.  The airline was further designated by the U.S. Department of State in December 2019 pursuant to Executive Order 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.  Several Mahan Air executives have since been designated for their support of Mahan Air – for example, Shanghai Saint Logistics Limited, Abdolhossein Khedri and companies under his control.  Others have been indicted along with Mahan Air itself (here and here), and in December 2019 OFAC issued a finding of violation against Aero Sky Aircraft Maintenance, Inc. for entering into a contract with Mahan Air several years earlier.

Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has completed the enforcement of a final order of forfeiture against a cargo plane previously owned by Mahan Air. Through a series of actions initiated in 2022, the United States obtained physical custody of the airplane from Argentina, where it was seized following sale of the plane by Mahan to Empresa de Transporte Aéreocargo del Sur, S.A., a Venezuelan cargo airline.  The United States filed a motion for default judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in March 2023, and a final order of forfeiture was issued on May 3, 2023.

The significance of the seizure was emphasized by District of Columbia U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves, who lauded the inter-agency and international cooperation that brought the aircraft to the United States, and added, “Foreign adversaries – seeking to illegally use American-made products to further their endeavors – need to know that the United States government will work with the international community to hold them accountable for their illegal conduct.”

Press release | Order of Forfeiture | Motion for Default