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Ghanaian mining company used plane seen in Iran

Tuesday - 4/22/2014, 5:00pm  ET

MICHELLE L. PRICE
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A Utah bank confirmed Tuesday that an airplane registered to the bank was used by a Ghana mining company to take Ghanaian businessmen to Iran last week.

The New York Times published a story last week revealing the presence of the plane, which had a small American flag on the tail, in Iran.

Aviation records show the plane is registered to the Bank of Utah through an arrangement in which the bank serves as a trustee for aircraft owners.

Except for some approved activities by the U.S. Department of Treasury, federal regulations prohibit most economic activity between the U.S. and Iran. The Treasury Department said in a statement Tuesday that sanctions on Iran generally prevent U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to that country. Determining if a violation "has occurred is fact specific, and Treasury is unable to comment on this situation," the statement said.

Scott Parkinson, senior vice president for marketing and communication with the Ogden-based bank, confirmed Tuesday morning that the Ghana company Engineers & Planners had been using the Bombardier CL-600.

Parkinson said the Bank of Utah has been cooperating with the State Department and other federal agencies since the plane was spotted in Iran but wouldn't comment further about what those agencies are looking at or to what degree they are investigating.

Engineers & Planners said in a statement Saturday that the plane's trip did not violate any international aviation laws.

The company's chief executive is Ibrahim Mahama, the younger brother of Ghanaian President John Mahama.

While the company has said the passengers on the flight were businessmen, initial reports were that it was carrying a governmental delegation, and an anti-corruption group, Ghana Integrity Initiative, has asked the government to explain.

Felix Ofosu-Kwakye, the deputy minister of information, denied on Ghanaian radio Tuesday that the government had sent a delegation to Iran and added that it had not leased any plane from the company.

Parkinson said his bank, which offers aviation ownership trusts as one part of its business, has no reason to believe there's a problem with their trust agreement for this specific aircraft.

"Of course we're looking at all of our policies regarding this, but we're pretty confident that what we've done is appropriate," he said.

The aviation trust arrangements have prompted two warnings from a government watchdog in the past year.

A government watchdog warned last June and again in January that non-U.S. citizens have registered 5,600 planes with the Federal Aviation Administration through trustees, concealing the owners' identities.

Under FAA regulations, this can be done by the owner creating an agreement to transfer the plane's title to a trustee that is a U.S. citizen. The trustee then registers the plane. The agreements provide little information on the identity of the owner or who uses the plane, according to a memorandum by the Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General.

On Friday, Parkinson said his bank performs due diligence required by regulators in terms of aircraft ownership and its trust agreements make it clear that the bank does not permit any illegal activity.

FAA regulations don't require trustees to identify aircraft owners or operators as a condition of registration. The FAA recently updated its policies to require trustees to produce this information, but only within 48 hours of an FAA request, the memorandum said.

The FAA has at times experienced problems identifying owners and operators of U.S. registered planes involved in accidents or incidents, the memo said.

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Associated Press Writer Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report. Francis Kokutse reported from Accra, Ghana.


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