In the summer of 2008-09, Qantas flew three of its aging Boeing 747 jumbos to the US to park them at a giant graveyard for commercial planes in the Arizona desert.
Each more than two decades old, the workhorses of Qantas' international fleet were near the end of their working lives for a full-service airline.
The global financial crisis helped accelerate their retirement. It also made it harder to sell the last of the airline's 747-300-series flying machines.
Buyers were thin on the ground. The passenger planes sat in the dry desert climate until August 2010 when Qantas finally found one.
Within 20 months, one of the jumbos would be in Iran - in defiance of US trade sanctions against that country's regime, and raising questions about the dark side of the second-hand aircraft market. It reveals the lengths some will go to circumvent strict trade sanctions on Iran.
Without US authorities intervening, the two other queens of the skies, which once plied long-haul routes for Qantas, were also presumed destined for the Islamic Republic.
The trail leads from Qantas' jet base in Sydney to the Arizona desert in the US, to a small sheikhdom in the Middle East, West Africa and finally to Iran.
Qantas sold the planes to Sayegh Group Aviation, a leasing company in Sharjah, an emirate in neighboring Dubai. Less than 300 kilometres from the sheikhdom on the other side of the Persian Gulf is Iran.
The sale to Sayegh sparked the beginning of a complex series of deals to related companies.
The case lifts the lid on the murky world of the second-hand aircraft market.
It also raises questions about the obligations of aircraft sellers such as Qantas to run the ruler over buyers to ensure their planes do not end up in the wrong hands.
A Californian aircraft leasing company, which blew the whistle on Sayegh early last year, had also been approached by the same companies from the United Arab Emirates and the West African nation of Gambia wanting to buy planes.
''[Qantas] could have easily figured it out if they wanted to. I'm pretty sure they just decided they are just going to cover it … as they are legally required to do,'' CSDS Aircraft Sales and Leasing president Benedict Sirimanne says.
''Whenever you sell an airplane, you have to do a little bit of due diligence.''
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