Ghana has accused Iran of peddling falsehood about a US-flagged plane spotted in Tehran recently, setting the stage for possible diplomatic row between the former British colony and the Islamic Republic.
Iran had said that the plane, which landed in Tehran last week, was leased to the office of Ghana’s President, and carrying a business delegation from the West African nation.
Tehran’s comments came after 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.
It was later reported that the plane was leased to Engineers and Planners (E&P), a mining firm founded by Ibrahim Mahama, brother of Ghana’s President.
The presence of an American plane in Iran was striking as Washington and Tehran have been caught up in a long standing diplomatic standoff for decades, and the Islamic Republic is under a number of economic sanctions.
On Friday, Iran’s State news agency, IRNA, quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, as saying that the plane was transporting Ibrahim Mahama, 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.
But, in a CitiNews interview on Tuesday, Ghana’s Information Minister, Mahama Ayariga, said Iran’s claims about the Ghanaian delegation “are false”.
He said: “I am surprised also that they will even go to make statements about the leasing of the plane. The lease agreement is there and the lease agreement is between E&P and the Company in Utah… So there is really no basis for a statement by the Foreign Ministry of Iran that the plane was leased to the Office of the President of Ghana.”
He added, “The President has an aircraft at his disposal for his official travels and so we will not go and lease another aircraft for official travels and so I think that [Iran’s] statement is inaccurate”.
Mr. Ayariga, also told CitiNews, that Iran equally peddled falsehood that “Ghanaian senior officials” were in Tehran to follow up on agreements reached between the two countries two years ago.
“No officials went. There was just one public officer who was part of the business delegation and he went there not in an official capacity so there is really no issue of officials following up on earlier exchanges of visits and discussions,” Mr. Ayariga, who is also the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bawku, said.
The Minister declined to disclose the identity of the “public officer” who was on the trip except to say, “He was with a business delegation and it was entirely a private trip”.
He added that the trip was not “financed by the Office of the President. They were not sent there by the Government of Ghana and they were not going there at the instance of the Government of Ghana.”
There was no immediate comment from Iran’s foreign Ministry on Accra’s response to Afkham’s earlier statements.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ayariga’s refusal to give the particulars of the public officer who joined the Ghanaian business delegation to Iran has rattled the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII).
Executive Director of the corruption watchdog, Vitus Azeem, told CitiNews on Tuesday that Ghanaians have a right to be suspicious about the Mahama administration’s comments on the matter so far because the Flagstaff House appears not to be telling the whole truth.
He urged government to mention the name of the public official who made the Tehran trip because if that is not done, “you will not be able to clean people’s minds of that perception” that government has something to hide.
Iran and world powers are presently engaged in negotiations over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program. Recently, world powers eased some international sanctions imposed on Iran over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program after a deal was reached last year. The White House has said the lifting of sanctions can only happen “in total” after a comprehensive deal is reached.
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