An Iranian airline with reputed links to the country's Revolutionary Guard has reportedly defied international sanctions and bought nine passenger jets worth more than $300m (£193m).
Mahan Air, blacklisted by the US and Europe because of alleged links to the revolutionary guard — denied by the airline — is suspected of spending more than a year brokering a complex series of arrangements using the small Iraqi Al-Naser Airlines as a front, according to western security officials. Al-Naser denies the claims.
The West fears the aircraft could be used to ferry weapons to conflicts in Yemen and Syria, a concern that Mahan — which is owned by the Kerman Molal-Movahedin Non-Profit Institute — rejects, said the Financial Times.
Hossein Marashi, a member of the institute's board of trustees, confirmed the purchase of the nine jets to the FT, but said it "is really baseless to say Mahan buys modern planes to carry weapons as if there is shortage of planes in Iran for such purposes".
Mahan did not disclose where it purchased the planes, but it is thought to have been done through complex leasing deals with apparently unwitting European companies.
"The [first] company had sent those planes back to Airbus and Airbus overhauled them and sold them to [other] non-Iranian companies which then sold them to Mahan after they did not find any interest in the Iraqi market," said Marashi.
The nine aircraft - eight Airbus A340s and one Airbus A320 - were manufactured between 2001 and 2009 but had flown less than six months. They have been stored in Iraq for several months and were all flown to Iran over the weekend.
Eyad Abdelkarim, head of marketing for Al-Naser, insisted the allegations that his company had acted as a front for Mahan were untrue. "I don't have any information about this," he told the FT. "This is some kind of propaganda. There is no truth to the information you have received."