On Tuesday morning, a plane owned in trust by the Bank of Utah showed up in a very visible area of the Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
What was it doing there exactly? Nobody knows, reports The New York Times.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has eased some of the long-standing punitive economic sanctions against Iran. Still, very little American — or European — economic activity is allowed inside the religious theocracy.
The Bank of Utah is certainly no Wells Fargo. The Ogden-based community bank has all of 13 branches including three in Ogden, two in Salt Lake City and one in Trementon (pop. 7,647). Its humble motto is: “Experience. Service.”
The bank’s senior officials say they are baffled.
“We have no idea why that plane was at that airport,” Brett King, a Bank of Utah executive in Salt Lake City, told the Times.
“As fiduciary, we must keep information confidential when it comes to the beneficiary,” he added.
King also called the Bank of Utah “very conservative” and promised to get to the bottom of the situation “if there is any hint of illegal activity.”
The bank executive explained that his employer is only a trustee for the unidentified investors (possibly foreign investors) who actually own the aircraft (N-Number N604EP). Interestingly, the Bank of Utah acts as a trustee for a slew of planes—1,169 of them to be exact, everything from Boeing 747s to small, piston-powered Cessnas. In fact, not many American banks act as a trustee for more American aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration offered no help whatsoever concerning the mysterious jet parked in broad daylight at the busiest airport in Iran (over 13 million passengers in 2010).
Similarly, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces the vast array of sanctions against Iran, refused to comment. However, under federal law, the department is normally supposed to approve the presence of any American airplane on Iranian soil. Such approval would be especially important in this case because the plane is powered by engines manufactured by General Electric.
Meanwhile, Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York, offered no information about the people on the plane or the plane’s owner.
“We don’t have any information in this regard,” Babaei told the paper of record. “I refer you to the owner.”
Mehrabad Airport officials would only describe the plane as “V.I.P.”
An amateur plane-spotting sleuth – that’s a hobby in the world – caught a glimpse of this particular plane departing from an airport in Zurich, Switzerland in January. That was during the annual World Economic Forum in the ritzy ski town of Davos. In October, someone else saw the plane in London when it was on the way to Ghana.
Former federal aviation officials speaking on condition of anonymity told the Times that high-ranking American officials almost certainly approved the plane’s mysterious trip to Iran given that it sat readily identifiable on a gangway at a busy commercial airport.