Mystery Plane In Tehran Belongs To Overseas Client, Bank Says

Iran’s foreign ministry says it belongs to Ghanaians.

A plane belonging to Iranian airline Mahan Air at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport in September. Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters / Reuters

WASHINGTON — The mysterious American plane that landed at an airport in Tehran belongs to an overseas client, the bank that acts as a trustee for the plane confirmed on Friday.

Scott Nielsen, an executive at the Bank of Utah, which according to FAA databases owns the plane, said that the executives had been trying to reach the real owners but “this is an overseas customer and they don’t operate under the same hours as we do.”

Clients “can be an American or they can not be one,” Nielsen said. “The service is used by all kinds of people for a variety of reasons.”

A report in Iranian media has quoted the country’s foreign ministry’s spokesman as saying that the plane belongs to Ghanaian officials. The New York Times reported that the plane had been spotted leaving London for Ghana in October.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that a U.S.-registered plane had landed at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport. The plane was listed in an FAA database as being owned by the Bank of Utah; the bank has said it acts as a trustee for investors who own the plane, allowing them anonymity.

“Bank of Utah offers many financial services, including personal and corporate trust services,” Scott Parkinson, vice president of communications for the bank, said in a statement. “The Bank acts as trustee for aircraft of behalf of [sic] the beneficiary. The Bank has no operational control, financial exposure and is not a lender for this transaction.”

Iran sanctions and trade regulations prevent the U.S. or any U.S. person from sending goods or services to Iran, and would generally outlaw a U.S.-registered plane from landing there. But the Treasury department weighs potential violations of sanctions on a “fact specific” basis, a U.S. official said.

A spokesman for the Office of Foreign Asset Control declined to comment on the situation and said the office can’t comment on specific license applications or requests.

The Bank of Utah said its agreements with investors for whom it acts as a trustee prohibit the planes from being used illegally.

“The trust relationship is like most financial services relationships and is confidential,” Parkinson said. “Therefore, additional information must come from the beneficiary. However, the Bank performs a due diligence process including the required regulatory verifications to ensure it conducts banking business with legitimate individuals and entities. The Bank’s trust agreements do not allow aircraft be used in any illegal activity.”

Nielsen said the bank had not been approached by government agencies about the issue.

“To the best of my knowledge no,” he said. “The FAA knows what’s going on, the governing authorities are well aware of these situations.”

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