ACCRA (Reuters) - A U.S.-flagged plane which landed at an airport in the Iranian capital Tehran last week was carrying business executives from Ghana and did not flout international laws, according to the mining firm which leased it.
The New York Times reported on Thursday that the plane, owned by the Bank of Utah, was parked at Tehran’s Mehrabad Airport on Tuesday.
Its presence caused a stir as the United States and Iran have been at loggerheads for decades and the Islamic Republic is subject to economic sanctions, which would generally prohibit U.S.-registered aircraft from flying to the country.
It was later reported that the aircraft was leased to Ghana-based mining firm Engineers and Planners (E&P), founded by the Ibrahim Mahama - a multi-millionaire and brother of Ghana’s President John Mahama.
“The said trip was made in conformity with all international aviation laws,” said a statement signed by the company’s executive director, Adi Ayitevie, and seen by Reuters on Sunday.
Ayitevie said the plane had carried a delegation of Ghanaian business executives to Iran and had since returned to Ghana.
“We wish to also state that the President of the Republic of Ghana, H.E John Dramani Mahama, has never been transported by the said aircraft,” the statement added.
The New York Times 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.
In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman said on Friday the U.S. Treasury Department would look into the matter to determine if there were any violations of sanctions imposed on Iran.
Iranian authorities said the Ghanaian delegation was in Iran to follow up on agreements reached between the two countries two years ago.
Speaking to Iranian state news agency IRNA, the head of Mehrabad Airport, Mansour Shirazi, called the publicity surrounding the flight politically motivated.
“The plane was carrying the brother of the Ghanaian president, who entered the country on invitation from foreign ministry. But the plane he arrived in belongs to an American airliner,” he said, adding that Iran’s presidency handled arrangements for the flight.
An aide to President Mahama on Saturday denied the president’s brother had been part of the delegation and Engineers and Planners declined to address the issue in its statement.
Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Ghana last April as part of an effort to expand ties with African countries. His campaign yielded little in terms of trade and votes at the United Nations against sanctions targeting its nuclear program.
Mahama is an ally of the United States and U.S. President Barack Obama visited Ghana in 2009.
Additional reporting by Mehrdad Balali in Dubai,; Editing by Joe Bavier and Angus MacSwan