YV3441 seized in Fort Lauderdale with massive arsenal of weapons on board.
On this past Saturday evening a Venezuela registered Learjet 55B with tail number YV3441 was detained as it was preparing to depart Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Air & Marine Operations agents from the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol's Marine Unit were alerted to the aircraft which was related to an ongoing investigation. An inspection of the jet yielded a massive arsenal of weapons including 58 pistols, assorted shotguns, sniper rifles & assault weapons.
At the time of the search the aircraft was allegedly parked on the tarmac in front of Jetscape Services, which offers refuelling, maintenance, hanger rental and other aircraft related services within the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Sources have indicated that Jetscape is not considered complicit or under investigation at this time.
After agents discovered the weapons on board the co-pilot Luis Patino and pilot Gregory Méndez aka "Choco Papis" were arrested.
Mr Méndez is a former Venezuelan Air Force officer that is known to fly for the Narco-Dictatorships' favourite bag man Alex Saab. Currently imprisoned in Cape Verde, Saab is awaiting extradition to the United States on a multitude of charges related to his involvement in the theft of Venezuelan national resources, drug trafficking, sanctions evasion and other crimes.
The flight history data for the plane exhibits numerous signs that are cause for suspicion. The most obvious is that the plane has been using the ICAO code, or unique aircraft identifier of a different plane when it flies. At least as far back as January the plane was using a callsign YV3441 to match its tail number, but the ICAO it displayed to aircraft tracking was for a different plane YV572T. Using this other ICAO we can see that the aircraft flew what appears to be a maintenance flight departing from and then returning to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport on Thursday August 13th.
On August 14th it showed up on tracking as it headed south east across the Venezuelan coast in the direction of Guayana City, this indicates it took off without enabling its transponder in an attempt to frustrate efforts to track the planes destination. Further examination of the historical tracking data shows that trips to this region in Venezuela are frequent in the last months which may offer a clue as to the nature of the weapons shipment.
As revenue from the oil sector has dried up the Venezuelan regime has increasingly turned to narcotics trafficking and blood gold to sustain the U.S. dollar payments demanded by the Venezuelan military Generals to remain loyal to the Dictatorship.
In the Orinoco belt where Guayana city is located there are richer gold deposits than anywhere else in the world and control of the region is often influx between the various irregular groups that operate there. Many of these groups, such as the ELN & FARC are informally aligned with one or more faction within the current regime and were the likely recipients of these weapons.
Written by Simon Bolivar
Information & Graphics from ABSDExchange.com & @CBPSouthEast
Special Thanks to CBP Public Affairs office for their assistance