President Obama has warned that Iran is not open for business, even as the United States has loosened some of its punishing economic sanctions as part of an interim nuclear pact.
Yet, on Tuesday morning, Iran had an unlikely visitor: a plane, owned by the Bank of Utah, a community bank in Ogden that has 13 branches throughout the state. Bearing a small American flag on its tail, the aircraft was parked in a highly visible section of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.
But from there, the story surrounding the plane, and why it was in Iran – where all but a few US and European business activities are prohibited – grows more mysterious.
While federal aviation records show the plane is held in a trust by the Bank of Utah, Brett King, one of its executives in Salt Lake City, said, “We have no idea why that plane was at that airport.”
He said the Bank of Utah acted as a trustee for investors who have a financial stake in the plane and that the bank was investigating further.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it had no information about the investors in the aircraft or who was operating it. Officials waiting at the gangway at Mehrabad Airport said only that the aircraft was “VIP”.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the federal government’s primary enforcer of sanctions against Iran, declined to comment on the plane’s presence there. Under US law, any American aircraft would usually need prior approval from the department to go to Iran without violating a complicated patchwork of rules governing trade.
In the case of this particular aircraft, powered by engines made by General Electric, the Commerce Department typically would have to grant its own clearance for American-made parts to touch down on Iranian soil.
Iranian officials also declined to comment on the purpose of the plane’s visit or passengers’ identities. A spokesman for Iran’s United Nations mission in New York, Hamid Babaei, said: “We don’t have any information in this regard. I refer you to the owner.”
The spotting of the plane by a New York Times reporter in Tehran carries particular intrigue as it involves Iran, a country still effectively shunned by the global financial system.
Even some former federal officials said the very presence of an American-flagged aircraft parked in broad daylight suggested its flight had been approved as part of a legitimate business trip.