Apr 18, 2014

Iran Gets an Unlikely Visitor, an American Plane, but No One Seems to Know Why

Iran had an unlikely visitor: a plane, owned by the Bank of Utah. Bearing a small American flag on its tail, the aircraft was parked in a highly visible section of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.
But from there, the story surrounding the plane, and why it was in Iran — where all but a few United States and European business activities are prohibited — grows more mysterious.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it had no information about the investors in the aircraft or who was operating it. Officials waiting at the gangway at Mehrabad Airport said only that the aircraft was “V.I.P.”
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the federal government’s primary enforcer of sanctions against Iran, declined to comment on the plane’s presence there. Under United States law, any American aircraft would usually need prior approval from the department to go to Iran without violating a complicated patchwork of rules governing trade.
In the case of this particular aircraft,the Commerce Department typically would have to grant its own clearance for American-made parts to touch down on Iranian soil.
Iranian officials also declined to comment on the purpose of the plane’s visit or passengers’ identities. A spokesman for Iran’s United Nations mission in New York, said: “We don’t have any information in this regard”
In the case of this plane, one spotter spied it leaving an airport in Zurich around the time of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, held in January. Another photographer tracked the plane, identified by its call letters N604EP on the tail engines, departing a London-area airport for Ghana last October.
But this week’s spotting by a New York Times reporter in Tehran carries particular intrigue because it involves Iran, a country still effectively shunned by the global financial system.
Officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the very presence of an American-flagged aircraft parked in broad daylight suggested its flight had been approved as part of a legitimate business trip. What is more, they said, the easily identifiable plane was not likely to be part of a covert diplomatic mission.
The secrecy surrounding the plane is compounded by federal aviation regulations that can make it virtually impossible to determine who was flying it.
The private plane, like thousands of similar ones, is owned through a trust — a complex legal structure often established to help foreign individuals or corporations invest in planes that can fly freely within the United States.

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