Iran says US-flagged plane at airport leased to Ghana
Business delegation from Accra used jet leased from Bank of Utah; Tehran says no Americans were onboard.
Iran says that a plane which landed in Tehran airport flying the American flag was leased to Ghana's presidential office and carrying a business delegation from the African nation.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that a plane owned by the Bank of Utah was parked in Mehrabad Airport in Tehran on Tuesday.
Its presence was noteworthy as the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for decades and the Islamic Republic is subject to certain economic sanctions.
Original New York Times report
State news agency IRNA on Friday night quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying that the plane was transporting the brother of Ghana's president and a mining delegation.
"The plane is on lease to Ghana's presidential office, and its passengers were Ghanaian senior officials led by the president's brother. None of its crew members were American," Afkham was quoted as saying.
The Ghanaian delegation was in Iran to follow up on agreements reached between the two countries two years ago, she said, adding that it departed on Thursday.
The New York Times said it had reviewed a confidential document which showed that "the plane is held in a trust by the Bank of Utah and on behalf of the mining company, Engineers and Planners, which is based in Accra".
It quoted a Bank of Utah executive, Brett King, as saying the company had no idea why the plane was at the airport and it was investigating further.
There was no immediate comment from Ghanian officials.
Iran and world powers are engaged in negotiations over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Some international sanctions imposed over its program have been eased temporarily after a deal was reached last year. Washington has said the lifting of sanctions can only happen "in total" after a comprehensive deal is reached.
Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped up efforts to expand ties with African countries, though his campaign yielded little in terms of trade and votes at the United Nations against sanctions targeting its nuclear program.
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