Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and their colleagues to send a letter to the Department of Justice after Iranians with direct links to the country’s most prominent designated terrorist organization were detained in Argentina early last month. The Biden Administration has refused to provide key Argentinian law enforcement officials information confirming links to terrorist activities. The Senators’ letter demands an explanation for the delay and whether the failure to confirm terrorist linkages with a major non-NATO US ally could be because of the president’s continued, desperate, and deeply misguided pursuit of an Iran nuclear deal.

The Senators’ letter demands a rationale for the Justice Department’s “uncharactistic delay and lack of responsiveness” to formal requests by the Argentinian judiciary for information key to their investigation into the Iranian suspects, stating that the delay “suggests a prioritization of other parts of this administration’s agenda, such as negotiations over a new Iranian nuclear deal.”

Lankford is a leading voice on countering Iran’s nuclear program and terrorist activity. He introduced the Iran Sanctions Preservation Act to prevent President Biden from lifting sanctions on the Iranian regime and spearheaded a successful amendment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and requiring sanctions against Iranian oil exports to China.

Background

On June 6, a plane under the ownership of Emtrasur Cargo with a crew that included five Iranians, with at least one member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), landed in Argentina. Upon inspection, Argentine federal police discovered the plane’s cargo contained intelligence technologies and related military hardware, providing credible suspicion for malign activities related to cyber and intelligence operations.

In addition, the pilot of this aircraft, Gholamreza Ghasmei, is the CEO of Qeshm Fars Air, an Iranian airline sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury. The IRGC, a designated foreign terrorist organization, uses Fars Air to smuggle weapons, leading to questions of Ghasmei’s potential involvement in the delivery of lethal materials supporting efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard-Qods Force. As a result, the government of Argentina detained the plane by court order and is currently retaining the passports of the passengers and crew.

The Argentine judiciary, through standard process, which is called the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) program, requested information from the Justice Department on the potential involvement of the plane and its crew in support of international terrorism.

Joining Lankford and Ernst in sending the letter were Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rick Scott (R-FL), and Bill Hagerty (R-TN).

You can read the full letter HERE and below:

Dear Attorney General Garland:

We write to bring to your attention recent inactions by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that raise significant national security concerns and bring into question DOJ’s motives in failing to assist our international partners or take action to enforce the laws of the United States. We urge you to promptly reply to and assist the Argentine judiciary in their investigation of a Venezuelan aircraft, along with its crew and passengers, located on Argentine soil, and utilize all of the Department’s tools and authorities to enforce any and all appropriate measures available under US laws—including seeking forfeiture of the aircraft.

As you are certainly aware, on June 6, 2022, a Venezuela-flagged plane with a crew of fourteen Venezuelans and five Iranians, including at least one senior Tehran official, landed in Argentina. Upon inspection, Argentine federal police discovered the plane’s cargo contained intelligence technologies and related military hardware, providing credible suspicion for malign activities related to cyber and intelligence operations. In addition, the pilot of this aircraft, Gholamreza Ghasmei, is a board member, shareholder, and manager of Qeshm Fars Air, an Iranian airline sanctioned by the US Department of Treasury. It is well documented that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, uses Fars Air to smuggle weapons, leading to questions of Ghasmei’s potential involvement in the delivery of lethal materials supporting efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard-Qods Force. As a result, the government of Argentina detained the plane by court order and is currently retaining the passports of the passengers and crew.

It is our understanding that DOJ may possess information key to Argentina’s investigation. For example, DOJ may be able to confirm whether the aircraft, operating under the banner of Emtrasur Cargo, is the same aircraft loaned to the Venezuelan airline by Mahan Air in January 2022 or if the individuals have any involvement in assisting the Iranian regime’s terrorist activities. In fact, the Argentine judiciary made a formal request to DOJ for that exact information one month ago through the mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) process. The request has reportedly gone unanswered and there are no indications that it will be honored.

Bilateral MLATs are a critical demonstration of our commitment to partners around the globe, international diplomacy, and the functioning of international prosecutions. The lack of responsiveness to Argentina confuses a longstanding record of timely, mutual compliance, which has enjoyed great success in combatting terrorism and illicit financing in the tri-border area. Moreover, last week, Iran formally requested Argentina dissolve the investigation. Should DOJ continue to be unresponsive, Argentina will have no choice but to release the aircraft and its crew.

The laws of the United States and the enforcement of those laws, in particular sanctions laws, are not optional. The uncharacteristic delay and lack of responsiveness by the Department of Justice suggests a prioritization of other parts of this administration’s agenda, such as negotiations over a new Iranian nuclear deal. This is unacceptable, as justice cannot be administered at the expense of political whims or sensitivities. Our laws must be administered equally and enforced at all times.

Therefore, we request that you provide assurances that the delivery of vital information requested by the Argentine judiciary is no longer delayed and that DOJ fulfill its proper investigatory and enforcement role with respect to the aircraft, passengers, and crew. In addition, we request that you provide a staff briefing on the reasons behind the delay by August 5, 2022.

Sincerely,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s