Iran: Mystery Utah jet was chartered by Ghana
Iranian officials shed light late Friday on a mystery surrounding a jet registered to Bank of Utah in Ogden that was spotted earlier in the week at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.
The aircraft had been chartered by the office of Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama and transported his brother with a high-ranking delegation from that African country, a spokeswoman from the Iranian foreign ministry told Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
The plane's presence in Iran, first reported Tuesday by The New York Times, had sparked speculation of possible violations of Western restrictions on trade with the Iranian government.
The sighting of the jet also threw a spotlight on Bank of Utah's extensive business dealings in what are known as aircraft trusts, a complex financial instrument that lets the bank hold title to aircraft on behalf of beneficiaries whose identities it keeps confidential.
In addition to its U.S. registration number, the twin-engine Bombardier Challenger 600 jet featured an American flag on its tail and was in a public section of the airport, The Times reported.
None of the plane's passengers or crew was American, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham told IRNA. The delegation left Thursday, Afkham said, following a series of meetings with Iranian officials focused on expanding bilateral ties and cooperation.
Saying it had reviewed a confidential document on the plane's ownership, The Times reported Friday the plane was held in trust by the Ogden bank on behalf of the mining company Engineers and Planners, Ghana's leading contract-mining firm, based in Accra, Ghana's capital.
The company's CEO is Ibrahim Mahama, the president's brother, according to Ghanaian news sources.
Aircraft trusts allow a wide array of actual owners, be they U.S. citizens or non-citizens, to own, operate and maintain aircraft that are legally registered with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration while still remaining outside of public scrutiny as they travel.
There are FAA records tying Bank of Utah to as many as 1,172 aircraft, ranging from small planes such as the one seen in Iran to Boeing 767s. In fact, Bank of Utah appears to lead other banks across the U.S. for the number of aircraft trusts it holds, a search of the FAA's database of aircraft ownership has revealed.
Though the trusts list it as the aircraft owner, the small community bank, which maintains 13 branches across Utah, maintains no operational control of or financial interest in the planes, Bank of Utah corporate spokesman Scott Parkinson told The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday.
Though Parkinson characterized Bank of Utah as primarily a commercial lender to small businesses, he said its with work in aircraft trusts was a robust extension of its trust and wealth management services for clients.