Mahan Air, Iran’s largest commercial airline, has been flying to Venezuela and leaving with tons of gold bars that the Maduro regime has stolen from the Venezuelan people, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said.
“These flights must stop, and countries should do their part to deny overflights, just as many have already denied landing rights to this sanctioned airline,” he told reporters April 29.
More than a half dozen Mahan Air flights arrived in Venezuela in April, according to news reports. At least one flight carried chemicals for gasoline production to support the Maduro regime’s mismanagement of the country’s oil industry.
Maduro's thugs looted nine tons of gold bars and sent it to the Iranian regime. The world's leading thieves are partnering with the world's leading state sponsor of terror. The greatest victims are the Venezuelan and Iranian people. pic.twitter.com/EP7iP6FVJx
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 2, 2020
The Mahan Air flights to Venezuela defy Maduro’s own ban against arrivals enacted to slow the spread of COVID-19, according to the Associated Press.
The airline has already put the Iranian people and the broader Middle East at greater risk of the rapidly spreading disease. Mahan Air in February flew more than 55 round-trip flights to cities in China, defying the Iranian regime’s own stated ban against flights to China.
According to Bloomberg News, Maduro’s regime purchased the aid for the oil industry with 9 tons of gold, worth $500 million, loaded onto Mahan Air flights returning to Iran. The payment sent Venezuela’s published financial reserves plummeting to the lowest level in 30 years.
The United States has imposed sanctions against the two regimes, which both use their nation’s assets to enrich themselves rather than provide for the citizens.
U.S. sanctions seek to compel Iran’s leaders to stop pursuing nuclear weapons and funding terrorism. U.S. sanctions on Venezuela seek to block Maduro from profiting off illegal gold-mining and state-operated oil operations that fuel his criminal activity and human rights abuses.
Hizballah, which an increasing number of Latin American countries recognize as a terrorist organization, also has links to Mahan Air. Most recently, Colombia and Honduras designated Hizballah as a terrorist group in January, while Paraguay and Argentina led the effort by designating Hizballah last year.
Argentina formally designated Hizballah as a terrorist group in July on the 25th anniversary of the largest terrorist attack in Latin America’s history. On July 18, 1994, an Iranian-backed Hizballah suicide bomber drove a van filled with explosives into the Argentine-Israelite Mutual Association community center in Buenos Aires, killing 85 people and injuring 300 others.