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Few Clues as to How US Mystery Jet Ended Up in Iran

By Cathy Burke   |   Friday, 18 Apr 2014 07:51 PM

The saga of an American plane owned in trust by a little bank in Utah that wound up at an airport in Iran's capital this week has spiraled into a giant international mystery.

The New York Times reported Friday the jet, with a tiny American flag painted on its tail, was photographed in a very visible section of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran on Tuesday morning.

The United States has eased some of the long-standing punitive economic sanctions against Iran as part of an interim nuclear pact, but President Obama has warned Iran still isn't open for business.

Don't ask the Bank of Utah in Ogden how the plane got there.

"We have no idea why that plane was at that airport," Brett King, a bank executive in Salt Lake City, told The Times, explaining that the bank acted as a trustee for investors who have a financial stake in the plane and can't just spill the beans on who they are.

“As fiduciary, we must keep information confidential when it comes to the beneficiary,” King said, noting the Bank of Utah is "very conservative" and promising to determine whether "there is any hint of illegal activity."

So far, it's the only institution that's investigating, the business newssite Quartz reported.

The Times reported the bank acts as a trustee for more planes than just about any -- 1,169 to be exact -- but King told the newspaper the bank has no "operational control" or "financial exposure" to any of the fleet.

And the Federal Aviation Administration not only doesn't know about any of the investors, it hasn't a clue who was in the cockpit.

Similarly, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the vast array of sanctions against Iran, refused to comment though, under federal law, the department is normally supposed to approve the presence of any American airplane on Iranian soil.

On the diplomatic side, Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations, was equally in the dark.

"We don’t have any information in this regard," he said of the plane's owners or occupants.

"I refer you to the owner."

Officials waiting at the gangway at Mehrabad Airport said only the aircraft was "V.I.P," The Times reported.

Former federal aviation officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Times high-ranking American officials almost certainly approved the plane’s mysterious trip to Iran given that it sat readily identifiable on a gangway at a busy commercial airport.

But until the mystery is solved, there's plenty of speculation.

Quatrz reported Iran’s foreign ministry says the plane is owned by Ghana and was ferrying senior government officials to a meeting, while The Wall Street Journal reports the jet is owned by a mining company run by the younger brother of Ghana’s president.

Of course, "conspiracy theories abound," it added.

"One reason we know so little is the opacity of the plane’s ownership: While all U.S. planes must be registered in the Federal Aviation Administration’s database, they are often not registered to their real owners," it noted.

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The saga of an American plane owned in trust by a little bank in Utah that wound up at an airport in Iran's capital this week has spiraled into a giant international mystery.
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