SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An airplane that mysteriously ended up in Iran is registered to a Utah bank under an arrangement for aviation ownership that has prompted two warnings from a government watchdog in the past year.
The Bombardier CL-600 became the subject of international intrigue after the New York Times revealed its presence in Iran at Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, along with a picture of the jet, its tail number and a small American flag affixed to the side.
Government officials are not saying how and why the plane traveled to Iran.
Except for some approved activities by the U.S. Department of Treasury, federal regulations generally prohibit economic activity between the U.S. and Iran, according to the U.S. Department of State.
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.
Scott Parkinson, senior vice president for marketing and communication with the Ogden-based bank, said the financial institution is aware of the plane in Iran but is not investigating at this point.
"As far as the legality of that, flying into that country, that's really between the beneficiary and the Department of State, and maybe the FAA," Parkinson said. "Not us."
But the practice has drawn scrutiny from the federal government recently.
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.
In 47 registrations closely examined by the inspector general, the non-U.S. citizen who created the trust had complete authority to remove the trustee, and thus control over the plane.
Just five trustees accounted for 3,283 of the planes registered on behalf of non-U.S. citizens, the memorandum said. One trustee required the inspector general to obtain a subpoena before complying with a request for information.
Parkinson stressed that his bank performs due diligence that is required by regulators in terms of aircraft ownership. "Our trust agreements are very clearly outlined that we don't allow any illegal activity, obviously, with these assets."
"It's a piece of business that we've carved out, very legitimate piece of business, that our corporate trust people specialize in and have the talent for," he said.
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.
"We found several cases in which aircraft were operating or registered under questionable and possibly illegal circumstances and the FAA did not have sufficient information to conduct its safety oversight," the memorandum said.
Another plane tied to the Utah bank was in the news recently. A plane from Mexico that went off the runway, flipped over and burst into flames at the Aspen airport was also registered to the bank.
Associated Press Writer John Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.