Planespotting: American plane in Iran mystery

(KSL/CNN) – It’s a mystery in the heart of Iran. An American plane is parked at an airport in Tehran.

What is it doing there and why is it sitting in such a highly visible area?

These are just a few of the questions that US officials and journalists, as first reported in the New York Times, are asking because of the US’s strict economic sanctions that forbid most American companies from doing business in Iran.

An American Bombardier CL-600 fixed-wing aircraft captured in a photo by the New York Times sits at the Mehrabad Airport in Iran.

Is someone breaking the law?

“The Iranian transactions and sanctions regulations prohibit the exportation of goods, services or technology directly or indirectly from the United States, or by a U.S. person to Iran, and would generally prohibit U.S. registered aircraft from flying to Iran,” Jen Psaki, State Department spokeswoman said.

The State Department is investigating, but it’s the Treasury Department that is taking the lead, and will enforce, if appropriate, US sanctions.

“You can travel to Iran, but you have to get permission from the government, you know, and clarity as to the things you can do, and the things you can’t do. One of the first questions here will be, whoever made this trip, did they apply to the Treasury Department for permission, with a clear understanding of how you spend money in Iran, and how you can’t spend money in Iran,” P.J. Crowley, former State Department spokesman said.

Adding to the mystery: a spokesman for the airport quoted in Iranian media says no US plane landed there at all.

According to Federal Aviation records, this plane with tail number N604EP is owned by the Bank of Utah, held in a trust for a group of investors.

We got in touch with the bank which confirmed it owned the plane but doesn’t operate it, and didn’t say why it was sitting in Iran or who flew it there.

A spokesman said, “The trust relationship is confidential and additional information must come from the beneficiary. The Bank’s trust agreements do not allow aircraft be used in any illegal activity.”

We were able to track the plane’s recent whereabouts through aviation websites.

Last October the aircraft was spotted in Ghana and the UK, in January — Switzerland (at the time of the world economic forum, February back to the UK, and the next month returning to Ghana.

According to the Iranian News Agency, an Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman says the US plane was chartered by Ghana’s presidential office and was carrying a high-ranking Ghanaian delegation.

But the question US officials will still be investigating, since it is an American plane, whether any trade laws were broken.

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