Mystery solved? US-registered plane in Iran owned by Ghana firm

Share


The mystery of a US-registered plane spotted at a Tehran airport this week and reported on by the New York Times has apparently been solved.

The US-registered Bombardier corporate jet, carrying the registration number N604EP, is owned and operated by a Ghana-based engineering firm, an aviation expert said Friday. The visitors it bought to Iran last week were senior Ghanaian officials, an Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman said Friday.

The plane was chartered by Ghanaian officials, no American was on board, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told Iranian media Friday, journalist Mojtaba Mousavi and Shargh newspaper reported.

Tyler Bowron, an aviation expert at Cerretanni Aviation group in Boulder, Colorado, told Al-Monitor that the company that in fact owns and operates the plane is called Engineers and Planners, based in Accra, Ghana.

The Ghana firm “owns and operates” the plane, Bowron told Al-Monitor. Bank of Utah, which is listed on Federal Aviation Agency records as the trustee for the 22-seat corporate jet, “is just the trustee,” Bowron said. “They have nothing to do with it.”

The New York Times first reported Thursday on the mystery of the US “N-registered” plane seen by the paper at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport on Tuesday. The Blaze first reported Bowron’s identification of the Ghana firm that owns and operates the plane.

A Bank of Utah spokesperson said the bank was solely acting as a trustee for the airplane’s real owner.

“Bank of Utah… acts as trustee for aircraft of behalf of the beneficiary,” Scott H. Parkinson, senior vice president for marketing at the Bank of Utah, told Al-Monitor by email Friday. “The Bank has no operational control, financial exposure and is not a lender for this transaction.”

“The Bank’s trust agreements do not allow aircraft be used in any illegal activity,” Parkinson said.

International law experts said the US-registered plane, even if owned by a foreign entity, would have probably required a temporary sojourn license from the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) to legally visit Iran. US officials declined to comment Friday on the specific facts of this case.

“We can’t comment on license applications or requests,” a Treasury Department spokesperson told Al-Monitor Friday.

U.S. Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (“ITSR”) 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 prevent U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to Iran.

“A determination as to whether a violation of the ITSR has occurred is fact specific,” a source familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity, said.

The Ghana firm said to own the plane, Engineers and Planners, “was formed in 1997 to provide mining, construction and engineering services to the many mining companies that were setting up in Ghana at the time,” the firm said in a 2012 statement  concerning a plane it had acquired and would offer for lease.

“Recently, the company has entered into an agreement with an American Company to provide it with air services using a challenger 600 aircraft,” the company statement continued. “The arrangement makes the aircraft commercially available for rental by mining companies, oil service companies and other corporate institutions when not in use by Engineers and Planners.”

The company press statement identified its CEO as Mr. Ibrahim Mahama, the younger brother of Ghana’s then-Vice President H.E. John Dramani Mahama, who became Ghana’s president in July, 2012.

Engineers and Planner’s listed executive director, Adi Ayitevie, previously served as procurement manager at a Maryland-based firm, MNM Communications, that received several U.S. government contracts to provide construction services at US embassies abroad and domestic facilities, including the FBI academy at Quantico, according to his Linkedin bio and the firm’s client list.

Iranian and Ghanaian officials have in meetings over the past year proclaimed mutual interest in cooperating on mining and other economic development projects, media reports show.

It is common for foreign entities to acquire US “N-registered” aircraft, using trusteeships such as those provided by the Bank of Utah, that conceal the owner’s identity, aviation and legal experts said.

(Photo of a US-registered corporate jet at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport last Tuesday by Thomas Erdbrink, the New York Times.)

Syria’s top UK envoy defects: “No longer willing to represent this regime”


Syria’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom has defected and left his post at the Syrian embassy in London, the British foreign office said Monday. The defection of Syria’s UK Chargé d’Affaires, Khaled al-Ayoubi, is the fourth by a Syrian diplomat this month, and comes as talks are underway on a transition from Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“Mr. al-Ayoubi has told us that he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position,” a British foreign office spokesman said in a statement Monday.

His departure is “another blow to the Assad regime,”  that “illustrates the revulsion and despair the regime’s actions are provoking amongst Syrians from all walks of life,” the spokesman said.

The UK-based diplomat’s defection follows those of three other Syrian ambassadors this month, including Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares and Syria’s ambassadors to the UAE and Cyprus, a married couple, last week.

Various Syrian opposition representatives have been involved in transition planning talks  taking place in Cairo, under the auspices of the Arab League.

The United States is meantime expanding its assistance to the Syrian opposition, including non-lethal support to the armed Syrian resistance.

Among the new measures, the U.S. Treasury Department last week authorized the Syrian Support Group to provide financial and logistical assistance to the Free Syrian Army, Al Monitor reported last week. The authorization, contained in a letter from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and signed July 23, came as the Free Syrian Army military command issued a “Proclamation of Principles” pledging support for multi-ethnic pluralism and democracy.

US officials have stressed the need for Syria’s opposition to demonstrate such ethnic inclusivity, in order to encourage more defections and to avoid a sectarian bloodbath.  “The future will include all Syrians of all backgrounds,” US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said in a statement posted to the embassy’s website July 27.

The United States is also urging Syrian rebels and opposition groups to avoid seeking an Iraq-style disbanding of Syria’s army, the Washington Post reported.

However, Syria’s rebels don’t support one figure reportedly eyed as a potential Syrian unity figure who could hold the army together, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a close family friend of Assad who defected this month.

Tlas’s “road map is slowly taking shape,” Sabah’s Erdal Safak reported in a piece translated and published by Al Monitor Monday. “Never mind that a part of the opposition says, ‘There is no place for Baath officials or generals in the new era.’  Syria’s friends, definitely the US, see the Syrian army as the sole guarantor of integrity and stability of the country.”

(Members of a Syrian refugee family, who fled the violence in Syria, are seen at a garden in Port Said Square in Algiers July 30, 2012. More than 12,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their home country have sought refuge in Algeria, a source close to the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi.)

US allows financial support for armed Syrian rebels


The U.S. government has authorized a U.S. group to provide financial and logistical support to the armed Syrian resistance, I report on the front page.

The waiver was received from the Treasury Department Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) last week, Brian Sayers, of the Syrian Support Group, told Al- Monitor in an interview Friday.

“The OFAC decision is huge,” Sayers said. “It gets us the leeway to support the Free Syrian Army in broad terms.”

A photograph of the OFAC letter seen by Al Monitor showed that it was signed by a Treasury Department official on July 23. (The document has since been removed from the Internet.)

Sayers, an American who previously worked for six years in NATO operations in Brussels, was hired last spring by the Syrian Support Group to work Washington to “support the Free Syrian Army in different ways.”

But one Syrian source, speaking anonymously, suggested the Syrian Support Group’s mission is not only about lobbying the US government to provide support to the FSA, but also the reverse: to help turn the FSA into a more organized entity that could receive intelligence and other assistance from Western security agencies.

To that end, all nine members of the FSA’s military command this week signed on to a previously unpublished “Declaration of Principles” pledging their commitment to pluralism and democracy. “We believe in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society that honors and upholds freedom of expression, thought and conscience,” the document states. Continue reading