Mystery Plane, Drugs, Cash And Maybe CIA 5

This is a fascinating mystery. And I’m a little bit obsessed. It’s the story of a ghost plane with confirmed links to the American CIA, which mysteriously turned up in Australia. It’s also a story about a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as a daring and dangerous under the radar flight operation into Australia.

As I have said more than once, it really is the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part five. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale, is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 with twin turbo props, which arrived illegally in Australia. How it managed to end up parked at Wollongong airport, a tiny regional hub south of Sydney is a complete mystery.

The Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane in 2014 while it was parked on the tarmac. The day of the raid was a real old fashioned cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police, even though no one was on board.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

The News South Wales Police case, is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs, for distribution throughout southwest Sydney.

The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men who, police claim, have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents showing that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000, with money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and is full of intrigue.

Police also allege the documents show Stevermuer, had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at the same airport where the plane was raided.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy a flight training company, NSW Air and another company, Aerial Patrol shark-spotting.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware in the United States, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedoms and secrecy  as do the clients of other highly secretive organisations, such as the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records, it turns out the person listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who was arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club.

Now you might ask, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard of it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 was doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next official record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International.

Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement making the point that it was their job to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose had no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, who was awarded an MBE, a Member Of The British Empire by the Queen of England. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane, for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in Manila.  You might want to ask yourself the question: How is it possible that a private plane obtained the necessary permission to land and take off from a highly restricted US airforce base in the Phillipines?

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Albion Park airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a past blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s.

The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues such as who might have owned the plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is another interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose.

Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

So what might have happened to Bernie Stervermuer? He allegedly purchased the plane on behalf of a drug syndicate, and was also allegedly buying two companies so that the syndicate could launder dirty money. It turns out that Stervermuer bought not one but three planes on behalf of the syndicate between 2012 and 2014. NSW police say from 2012 to mid-2014, Stevermuer bought tplanes, in the United States, Malaysia and Cambodia, using money supplied to him.

Investigations by police reveal a “highly suspicious” paper trail linked to the purchase of at least two of the planes.

In the case of the US plane, which was infamously raided at Albion Park airport last July, $450,000 was paid through six bank transfers from five Chinese accounts, none of which had legitimate links to Stevermuer.

The US Department of Homeland Security told NSW investigating officers at least one of the accounts was used suspiciously in the past to transfer large amounts of money from Asia to the United States.

Two hundred thousand dollars was transferred to pay for the plane purchased in Malaysia, again using suspicious accounts, allegedly linked to drug operations.

Investigators couldn’t find any evidence to show who paid for the Cambodia plane or how it was paid.

When police raided Stevermuer’s house on the same day they raided the Merlin plane at Albion Park, they discovered $70,000 in cash, which, they say, was payment to Stevermuer for his involvement in transporting the Merlin to Australia.

After his arrest, Stevermuer decided to plead guilty to charges of dealing with property suspected of being the proceeds of crime and knowingly participating in a criminal group. But here’s where it gets even more interesting.

At the time, Stevemuer’s lawyer, Mark Savic, described his client as a “gentle, devoted and trustworthy family man” whose inherent naivety had been his undoing.

‘‘His love of flying caused him to be blind to what others might see were obvious signs to what was going on around him,’’ Mr Savic said, telling the Magistrate, hearing the case, that his client was extremely remorseful.

‘‘He’s not shied away from the charges, he has deep remorse and shame for being before the court today.

‘‘There was no intention on my client’s part to be involved in breaking the law. He didn’t go out to seek people in the underworld, he was approached by people with an agenda.’’

The Magistrate was clearly unimpressed with the submissions on behalf of Stevermuer, sentencing him to 19 months imprisonment.

However, Stevermuer appealed to the District Court of New South Wales and surprise, surprise won his appeal. His prison sentence was suspended and he walked away from everything a free man who will never spend a solitary second inside a jail cell.

Like I said, this story remains a fascinating and intriguing mystery.

Who Wants To Be a Whistleblower? If No-one Does, We’re In Trouble

There is a species currently threatened with extinction. Climate change is not to blame. Nor is Darwin’s theory of evolution, or some chance discovery made by Sir David Attenborough in the Galapagos. I’m talking about whistleblowers. These are people, who, at grave risk to themselves, reveal information that the public has a right to know about. But at this moment in time they have a bullseye on their back. They’ve been turned into targets of opportunity, as governments around the world, try to control all of the exit routes on the information superhighway. Before he became the US President, Barrack Obama, said he valued whistleblowers. He promised to protect them. But, sadly, what he said was not what he meant. They turned out to be weasel words. Promises, worthless and empty, as you might expect from politicians and the morally bankrupt. Instead, Obama declared war on whistleblowers. And a man called Jeffrey Sterling is one of the casualties. He is a former member of the CIA, who was involved in a top-secret operation to provide Iran with bogus plans to sabotage its nuclear program. His career story reads like a James Bond novel.

Sterling joined the CIA in May, 1993. Two years later, he became operations officer in the Iran task force of the CIA’s Near East and South Asia division. He held a top-secret security clearance and had access to sensitive information, including classified cables, CIA informants, and operations. After training in the Persian language in 1997, he was firstly sent to Bonn, Germany, and two years later to New York City to recruit Iranian nationals as agents for the CIA and also as part of a secret intelligence operation, codenamed Merlin, which literally gave intentionally flawed nuclear designs to Iran, in 2000.

Here’s how it worked. From early 1998 to May 2000, Sterling had assumed responsibility as case officer for a Russian with an engineering background in nuclear physics and production, which the CIA employed as a mule to pass flawed design plans to the Iranians. In April 2000, Sterling had a significant falling out with his employers. He filed a complaint with the CIA’s Equal Employment Office alleging racial discrimination. The CIA subsequently revoked Sterling’s authorization to receive or possess classified documents and placed him on administrative leave in March 2001. Sterling’s lawsuit, alleging he was the victim of racial discrimination, was dismissed by a Federal judge after the government successfully argued that pursuing the case would involve the disclosure of classified information. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal, ruling in 2005 that “there is no way for Sterling to prove employment discrimination without exposing at least some classified details of the covert employment that gives context to his claim.” Sterling was one of only a handful of African-American case officers employed by the CIA. He was ultimately fired from his job early in the Bush administration. The prosecution alleged that Sterling tried to blow the whistle on Operation Merlin by trying to give evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003 and when that didn’t work he decided to leak classified information to New York Times reporter and author James Risen for his 2006 book, “State of War.” Sterling then faced charges under the Espionage Act. The Justice Department portrayed Sterling as an “angry” and “vengeful” man who was “disgruntled” rather than righteously upset with corruption and cover-ups. Prosecutors alleged — and the jury agreed — that Sterling was trying to get his revenge on the CIA when he talked to Risen about a CIA operation that was meant to deter Iran’s nuclear program. The case drew special attention when federal prosecutors initially sought to subpoena Risen to testify against his will. Though they won in court, the Justice Department ultimately decided not to force the reporter to take the stand and give evidence at the trial. Risen had vowed to go to jail before he would reveal any sources. Federal Attorney-General Holder said that the verdict proved “it is possible to fully prosecute unauthorized disclosures that inflict harm upon our national security without interfering with journalists’ ability to do their jobs.” Since his department’s legal battles with Risen, Holder has tightened the guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists. The trial itself was a spectacle, with CIA officers testifying behind a retractable grey screen as they described suitcases full of cash, clandestine meetings and fictitious back stories. The case against Sterling was largely circumstantial — there were no recorded phone conversations or captured e-mail exchanges that show he passed leaked classified information to Risen — and that omission required prosecutors’ to delve deeply into Sterling’s work and the details of Risen’s book. According to the prosecutor, Sterling was the only potential source who had a relationship with Risen, knew of the information and had a motive to discuss his clandestine work. They argued that the book — which suggested that the secret operation might actually have helped further Iran’s nuclear research — was somewhat inaccurate and that it cast Sterling as a hero and the CIA as hapless fools. “Jeffrey Sterling’s spin is what appears in the book,” prosecutor Eric Olshan said. Sterling’s defense attorneys argued that several people, other than Sterling, could have served as Risen’s source, and they suggested Sterling was unlikely to have given the reporter any information. In any case, they argued some information in the book could not have come from Sterling, because it addressed matters that happened after he left the CIA or contained details that he would not have known or remembered. Sterling became only the fifth person in the history of the United States under the Espionage Act, to be charged with mishandling national defense information. In a hearing at the U.S. District Court in 2011, Sterling’s defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, entered a not guilty plea. But Sterling was convicted of espionage on January 26, 2015. His defense attorney Barry Pollack said after the hearing that Sterling’s lawyers plan to take the case to a higher court “This is a sad day for Mr. Sterling and his wife,” Pollack said. “We will pursue all legal avenues with the trial court and on appeal to challenge Mr. Sterling’s conviction.”

What is significant here is that the Sterling case is not the first of its kind against whistleblowers. Other people who have tried to speak out  include former National Security Agency manager Thomas A. Drake, and former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for disclosing a covert operative’s name to a reporter. Federal authorities are still considering whether to lay charges against several high-profile individuals in other investigations, including former CIA director David H. Petraeus, veteran State Department diplomat Robin Raphel and retired Marine Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright. Dan French, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York who now does corporate work for a prominent law firm, said irrespective of whether prosecutors won or lost the Sterling case, they would in future aggressively prosecute whistleblowers. “I just think they’re going to bring these cases continuously to demonstrate that type of conduct by a government employee or a government contractor is going to be prosecuted, because the risk is just too grave,” he said.

Very bad news for anyone who believes in upholding free speech, and keeping our Governments accountable.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 4 – Epilogue

I’ve written some blog posts in the recent past about what I consider to be a fascinating mystery. It’s the story of a ghost plane, that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs and cash seized by New South Wales police, as well as an under the radar flight operation, that in all likelihood involved the American CIA.

It’s the story that keeps on giving. So many intriguing twists and turns. Here is part four. But first, some background to put the story in context.

At the heart of this tale is a plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, that arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how it got here.

But clearly someone knew quite a bit because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was a real cops and robbers type operation. The plane was surrounded by about 20 armed police.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, who is listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

The News South Wales Police case is that a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed. Normally, when police conduct raids of this type, it’s usually accompanied by a fair bit of bragging, about how law enforcement is cracking down on organised crime, but strangely, in this case, they’ve been conspicuous by their silence. Not one public word has been uttered since the raid.

Police clearly had Stevermuer under surveillance. They also claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 with the money provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was anything but straightforward and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, for some unexplained reason had access to large reserves of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses based at Illawarra Airport in Australia.

Several aviation sources have confirmed that Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company, called the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Police allege these two aviation companies were to act as legitimate fronts in order to hide criminal activity. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot, they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they now are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $A70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even more intriguing.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware, might be an extremely significant development. Delaware is one of the strangest American states in terms of corporate law, especially if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy similar freedom and secrecy to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions based in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies, which own aircraft and yachts, register them in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club, which owns the mystery plane, is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal in that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, bother to travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft apart from its age.

Even more unusual, Why would an Australian who doesn’t live in the United States, be listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless of course unless there was a darker purpose behind the deal.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area have ever heard it.

And, as it turns out, the plane at the centre of this intrigue, the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a ghost plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it ever arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft reveals that it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been doing a lot of flying right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But would this mystery be solved if we were able to trace the full ownership of this plane from the time in rolled off the assembly line?

As I already established in a recent blog post, the U.S. Forest Service was the first owner of the Swearingen Merlin 3 in the early 1970s. The Forest Service has a track record of an activity known in aviation circles as sheep dipping planes on behalf of the CIA. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal or disguise its true owner. Sheep dipping explains how some Forest Service owned aircraft were discovered in exotic locations like Colombia and Mexico being used by drug cartels instead of fighting forest fires.

Are there any significant clues in who might have owned by plane, before it was sold to the Oregonian Aero Club? Again a search of U.S. FAA records reveals the previous owner was a company called Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC based in Salem Oregon. Nothing unusual in that you might think except that Sterling Strategic Consulting LLC is owned by a dentist based in Colombia, Missouri on the other side of the United States. He bought the Swearingen Merlin 3 in 2011 and sold it to the Oregonian Aero Club a few months later. There is no suggestion or implication that any of these transactions were illegal. But they were definitely unusual and as per usual we end up with more questions than answers.

There is one final interesting element to this story that invites further scrutiny. The fact that this plane began its mysterious odyssey across the world, from Charlotte County Airport at Punta Gorda in Florida, could be an indication of its true origin and purpose. Punta Gorda, would have to be one of the more unusual locations in the United States and it’s all to do with its history. Punta Gorda could easily and humorously be re-named Spooksville. The founding fathers of Punta Gorda happen to be a pair of CIA spooks, Bud Cole and Al Johns, who turned a vast tidal flat into upmarket home sites complete with canals. As a CIA agent, Al Johns, was fairly gung-ho if you’ll pardon the pun. The CIA posted him to the East China Sea in the 1950s where his job was to supply pirates for junks used to attack Communist Chinese shipping. In fact, Punta Gorda seems to act as a magnet for CIA agents past and present. Porter Goss, former CIA Director during the Presidency of George W. Bush, was a long time resident of Punta Gorda and served as a local Mayor.

With that kind of history of CIA connectivity, it’s little wonder that Punta Gorda’s Charlotte County Airport has been home to some interesting characters and even more interesting allegations. For example at least one Congressional committee heard allegations that the airport was used to transport arms to the Contras in Nicaragua and to smuggle drugs, principally cocaine. Of course the allegations were never proven and no one was ever prosecuted or served jail time.

And there’s the case of  the 23 helicopters that mysteriously disappeared from Charlotte County Airport. One of the helicopters was later discovered in Chile of all places. No one can explain how they managed to disappear, how they managed to leave the United States or who was responsible but the local Sheriff has suggested publicly that he has a pretty good idea even if he’s not saying.

Maybe it isn’t so surprising that a ghost plane that flew out of a mysterious place like Punta Gorda would end up thousands of miles away in Australia, linked to drugs and organised crime and with no record of it ever entering Australia in the first place.

You would hope that the New South Wales Police would be interested in all of this information. It is clearly going to take their raid on the plane in a completely new direction and an international one at that. They have a lot of questions they need to ask. Who knows what they might uncover. But if they have any such plans they are not saying. Maybe their silence speaks volumes.

If I was a betting man, which I am not, I would wager that the mystery of the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft and how and why it ended up on the tarmac at Illawarra Airport is destined to remain exactly that. A mystery. And if the American CIA is involved you can take that as a given.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 3

Some weeks ago I started a blog post about a mystery plane that turned up in Australia, a significant quantity of illegal drugs, a large amount of cash and likely CIA involvement.

I’ve already written two blog posts on this topic. Here is part three. But first a little background as a recap.

The plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, arrived illegally in Australia but no one knows how.

But clearly someone knew something because the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, raided the eight-seater private plane while it was parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. The day of the raid was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 police surrounded the plane. The local newspaper was tipped off and took plenty of pictures.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, listed as the owner of the plane, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs. What their precise connection might be to Stevermuer has not been revealed.

Police obviously had Stevermuer under surveillance. They claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue.

Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, mysteriously had access to a large amount of cash and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two aviation businesses.

Several aviation sources say Stevermuer was in negotiation to buy the flight training organisation, NSW Air and another company,the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service.

Both businesses were based at Illawarra airport.

Police allege these two aviation companies were designed to act as legitimate fronts to hide criminal activities. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the seller became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA) records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has its registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to the clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, register in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability and also because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual, making it a great place to hide true ownership if that was your desire.

And according to FAA records it turns out that the person who is listed as a Director of the Oregonian Aero Club which owns the mystery plane is none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane on behalf of Oregonian Aero Club. Nothing strictly illegal with that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane?

There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft.

Even more unusual, Why an Australian, who doesn’t live in the United States, is listed as a Director of a fictitious American aviation club? None of this makes sense unless there was another agenda being followed.

The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, no web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the Oregon area know anything about it.

And, it turns out the plane at the centre of all of this intrigue, a Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop aircraft, could best be described as a stealth plane.

By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia.

In fact, the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy right up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took and who was flying it is anyone’s guess. But, what is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to avoid detection. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods so it wouldn’t be detected by radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the background of this particular Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

When it rolled off the assembly line in 1973, her first owner was listed as the U.S. Forest Service in Boise Idaho. Now at first glance that may seem innocuous but given the history of aircraft owned by the United States Forest Service it is a tell tale sign that this plane was destined to serve a sinister purpose.

Here’s why.

In the 1960s,70s and 80s, the United States Forest Service acquired a variety of aircraft with varying roles ostensibly to assist it with significantly improving aerial fire fighting capability. The USFS traditionally relied on contracting private companies to provide large air tankers for fighting forest fires. Most of these air tankers were retired World War II and Korean War-era transports, bombers, and maritime patrol aircraft.

There was a compelling reason for using these kinds of aircraft. They were relatively inexpensive to obtain and were capable of carrying the large loads of fire retardant needed to make their use cost effective.

In the 1980s, the bulk of the Forest Service’s air tanker fleet consisted of C-119 Flying Boxcars obtained from the military. But after concerns about safety, the aging C-119s were grounded in 1987.

It meant the available air tanker fleet was suddenly and substantially diminished, and the Forest Service needed additional aircraft for firefighting operations.

However, the plan they came up with to achieve this objective only succeeded in handing over ex military planes to private contractors who ended up using some of them for drug running instead of firefighting.

The aircraft were ex military surplus and only supposed to be used for contract firefighting with ownership retained by the United States Government. But under a new arrangement, the aircraft were sold with direct ownership transferred to private contractors who of course, could then do what they liked with them. This was both irregular and illegal. As you might expect under a deal like this some of the aircraft did not end up having anything to do with firefighting.

But here is yet another curious twist in the story with a uniquely Australian connection. Two C-130 aircraft, supplied to the U.S Forest Service for fire fighting duties by the Australian Air Force were subsequently discovered to have been spirited out of the United States and used for illegal activity in South America and Mexico.

We might never have known of these shenanigans were it not for a whistleblower called Gary Eitel who describes himself as a former CIA pilot, aviation consultant and an aircraft broker. Eitel had clients who were interested in obtaining C-130s but his clients had never been part of the original Forest Service arrangement with private contractors.

Consequently Eitel was told no aircraft were available for purchase.

But Eitel suspected he was being given a load of baloney.

And he was right.

He started doing some digging through Freedom of Information. What he uncovered was a scandal. Not only was the whole operation illegal, Eitel claims he inadvertently stepped into a covert CIA operation. Eitel says he discovered that the program was being used to channel military aircraft into the hands of private companies who, in turn, were contracting their services to the CIA using the Forest Service as a benign middle man for the transfer. This activity is known colloquially as sheep dipping. You sheep dip a plane when you conceal the source or true ownership.

In a Congressional committee hearing in 1976, the CIA’s general counsel admitted that the agency regularly used the United States Forest Service as cover for its covert operations. The CIA even shared an address with the Forest Service’s Air Research and Development unit in Alexandria, Virginia.

Which brings us back to the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft owned at one time by the U.S. Forest Service. Is there direct evidence linking this plane to the CIA? The answer is no. But on the balance of probabilities the circumstantial evidence points in that direction based on past history rather than away from it in my view.

Of course the question needs to be asked, if all of these aircraft were being diverted from what was originally their main purpose to boost the Forest Service’s capability to fight wild fires did that have a negative impact on fighting forest fires? The answer is both tragic and emphatic. In August 1994, 14 firefighters died while fighting a forest fire in Colorado.

The U.S. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently cited the Forest Service for “inadequate use of aviation resources.”

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration wanted to know what had happened to all of the Forest Service’s aircraft. What indeed.

In part four of this series, we will examine who owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 plane before the Oregonian Aero Club and the plane’s highly suspicious Florida connection.

Mystery Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA 2

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post called: The Story Of The Mystery Plane, The Cash, The Drugs And Maybe The CIA. Well, hold on to your hats because here is part two of that story. But firstly, a brief recap:

A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, conducted a raid on an eight seat private plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. It was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 police in vehicles, literally surrounded the plane. The local newspaper was tipped off and took plenty of pictures.

A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Police claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue. Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, had mysteriously come into a lot of money and was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy two business at Illawarra Regional Airport. Several aviation sources say Stevermuer was in negotiations to buy the flight training organization, NSW Air and the Aerial Patrol shark-spotting plane service, both based at the airport.

Police allege these businesses were designed to act as a legitimate front to hide criminal activities. But when Stevermuer offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the vendor became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

But then the story gets even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, previously owned the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

But the fact that this club has a registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Those types of companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, advertise registration in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual. Making it a great place to hide if that was your wish.

And it turns out that the person who bought the plane on behalf of Oregonian was none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

The papers list Stevermuer as the purchaser of the plane acting for an Aero Club that doesn’t exist. Nothing wrong with that you might say. Except, why would an Australian pilot and skydiving instructor, who doesn’t live in the United States, travel across the world to buy a 42-year-old plane? There is nothing in the least exceptional about this model of aircraft. Even more unusual, Why would a club want to sell its only aircraft, two weeks after it had purchased it listing an Australian as the buyer? None of this makes sense unless there was another agenda being followed.

Stevermuer wasn’t purchasing from a broker that buys and sells aircraft all the time. The Oregonian Aero club has no headquarters, web address, telephone numbers, aircraft (apart from this one 42 year old plane) or members. In fact none of the other aero clubs in the area know anything about it.

It turns out the plane at the centre of all of this intrigue is a Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop. It is best described as a stealth plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia. In fact the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to remain undetected. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods under radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coffs Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

The next obvious question is who flew the plane illegally into Australia? At this point in time we don’t know the answer to that question. So let’s talk about what we do know. Sometimes fact can be way stranger than fiction.

The contract to ferry the Swearingen Merlin 3 from the United States to the Philippines was undertaken by an Australian company called Snow Goose International. Snow Goose was engaged by the Oregonian Aero Club, which of course exists in name only. So it might be fair to assume that Snow Goose might know the principals behind Oregonian. If they do, they are not saying. In fact Snow Goose released a statement saying their job was to ferry the plane to the Philippines, which they did, At all times the flights were planned and approved by the appropriate authorities. Communication was maintained at all times by High Frequency Radio in accordance with international requirements. Snow Goose has no knowledge of what happened to the plane after they ferried it to the Philippines nor does it have any knowledge of how it ended up illegally in Australia.

Snow Goose is a very interesting company. It’s Director and Chief Pilot is David Baddams, a Member Of The British Empire. On the company website, he is listed as an ex-Navy fighter pilot with 40 years flying experience on many aircraft types including the Sea Harrier, BAE Hawk and the Douglas A4 Skyhawk. Since leaving the Navy in 1999, Baddams has remained closely involved in aviation as the business development manager of a military flying training school, a highly experienced flying instructor, an aircraft salesman and as the Chief Pilot and director of an airborne surveillance company.  He has many years and many hours experience on numerous aircraft.

I am certainly not inferring or suggesting that David Baddams had anything whatsoever to do with ferrying the Swearingen from the Philippines to Australia. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest or infer he was involved. Nor is there any evidence to suggest or infer that he was involved in anything illegal.

But there is also no denying that he had the flying expertise and the skill set to undertake the most perilous of flying journeys in a small plane for example, from the United States to the Philippines. Snow Goose International regularly posted photographic updates of the Swearingen ferrying job to the Philippines on its company Facebook page. A photo posted by Snow Goose International on April 30 showed Baddams and a man seated beside him the cockpit of a plane, with the caption: “It’s Bernie!!! He is back!” The man sitting next to him is Bernie Stevermuer.

Another photo, posted on June 13, was captioned: “Here she comes! On the pan at Clark about to continue on her journey with the owner!” The caption is referring to the tarmac at Clark Air Force base in the Philippines.

On the same date, Baddams commented: “Here she comes to Australia! It’s N224HR, the one we brought across the Pacific!”

But how the Swearingen Merlin 3 ended up in Australia and who flew her from the Philippines remains an intriguing mystery.

In part three of this series, we’ll be examining how the CIA might be linked to this case, its practice of “sheep dipping” planes and how the Swearingen that ended up in Australia, might have been originally owned by the American spy agency.

My New Book Cover Up

I think I might have mentioned that I have just written a non fiction book called Cover Up. It re-investigates five of the world’s biggest crimes: the death of Princess Diana, the death of Pope John Paul I, the probably murder of former US Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, The plane crash in Gander, Canada that killed 250 members of the 101st Airborne and the assassination of President Habyarimana which triggered the genocide that killed one million people.

As part of the promotion for my book, I was interviewed by Talk Radio Europe. Here’s a link to listen to the interview:

http://www.talkradioeurope.com/clients/dcomerford.mp3

And of course make sure you buy a copy from Amazon in Kindle or Paperback. Here’s the link:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1500314021?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1500314021&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

If you buy my book please leave a review on either on either Amazon or Goodreads or both. Here is the link to my Goodreads page:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22610845-cover-up

Happy reading !

Mysterious Plane, Cash, Drugs And Maybe CIA

Here’s a story of mystery and intrigue. It concerns a private plane, organized crime, a drug seizure, a large amount of cash and more than likely the CIA. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, members of the Australian Federal Police and the New South Wales Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, conducted a raid on an eight seater private plane, a US-registered Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop, parked on the tarmac at Illawarra airport, a tiny, regional hub south of Sydney. It was real cops and robbers stuff. About 20 armed police in vehicles literally surrounded the plane. The local newspaper, was tipped off about the raid and took plenty of pictures. A 43-year-old Wollongong pilot, Bernard Stevermuer, was arrested and charged with being part of a criminal organisation and dealing with the proceeds of crime. He is currently on bail.

Police allege a major international crime syndicate was using the airport to import guns and drugs for distribution throughout southwest Sydney. The syndicate was allegedly operated by two other men, who police claim have links to a number of New South Wales outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Police claim to have documents which show that the syndicate commissioned Stevermuer to buy the plane in the United States for $US400,000 provided by a mortgage company in Sydney. But as you will discover, the purchase was very complicated and full of intrigue. Police also allege that documents show Stevermuer, was prepared to pay $A1.5 million to buy a business at Illawarra airport to act as a legitimate front to hide criminal activities. But when he offered a $300,000 cash deposit, the vendor became suspicious and the sale fell through. When Police arrested the Wollongong pilot they discovered 36 kg of an illegal drug, which they are refusing to name, but believed to be heroin, with a street value of $A9 million, as well as $70,000 cash.

It certainly looked as if the police had earned a well-deserved pat on the back for doing their job and keeping Australia safe from would-be drug traffickers.

Except this wasn’t the end of the story.

In fact it was only the beginning.

It turns out the Swearingen Merlin 3 twin turbo prop is a stealth plane. By that I mean there is no record, whatsoever, of it arriving in Australia. In fact the last known official record concerning this aircraft shows it flew into the Philippines on May 5, 2014, after a two-month journey from the United States. But the Swearingen Merlin 3 had been pretty busy up until the time it left for the Philippines. It flew for a couple of weeks from Punta Gorda in Florida via Missouri and Texas and then to California and finally Washington State.

Flight records indicate the plane left Seattle, Washington on the 30th of April, 2014. It touched down at Cold Bay, Alaska, a village of 108 people, one shop, one hotel and an airport. The next day the aircraft flew to Honolulu and then the Marshall islands, a series of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Next stop was the US airbase at Guam before arriving in the Philippines capital, Manila.

But what happened to the plane after that is a total mystery. It clearly entered Australia some way but what route it took is anyone’s guess. What is also apparent, whoever was flying this plane, took extraordinary steps to remain undetected. By that I mean entering Australia at one of its most remote and least habited geographic points, flying visually, without instruments, at low altitude, for long periods under radar.

That would have taken the expertise and daring of an extremely skilled pilot.

The next record of contact between this plane, registered NH224HR, and a control tower, was at Coff’s Harbour in northern New South Wales on the 27th of June 2014. The plane radioed in that it was bound for Illawarra airport. And that’s where it’s been ever since, on the tarmac, until the police raid.

But this story is about to get even murkier.

If you do a search of US Federal Aviation Administration records, you will discover, that an organisation called the Oregonian Aero Club, with an address listed in Wilmington, Delaware, owns the Swearingen Merlin 3 aircraft.

So, who or what, is the Oregonian Aero Club?

That is an excellent question because no-one seems to know. None of the aero clubs in Oregon have ever heard of it. It has no club premises, street address, phone contact or website. We have no way of knowing if any of its members fly planes or whether it owns any other aircraft.

But the fact that this club has a registered office in Delaware might be an extremely significant clue. Delaware is one of the strangest states in the United States, in terms of corporate law specifically if you happen to be in the business of asset management.

Those types of companies, incorporated in Delaware, enjoy freedom and secrecy similar to clients of other highly secretive organisations like the Vatican Bank or financial institutions in the Cayman Islands. Asset Management companies with aircraft and yachts, advertise registration in Delaware as a way of minimising tax and personal liability because the assets are automatically registered as belonging to a trustee corporation rather than an individual. Making it a great place to hide if that was your wish.

And it turns out that the person who signed the ownership papers, buying the aircraft on behalf of the Oregonian Aero Club, that does not seem to exist, was none other than Australian pilot Bernard Stevermuer, who has just been arrested by Australian police.

What exactly is his connection to this aero club? It’s a very good question for the Australian Police to ask Stevemuer. A second equally good question to ask is why he signed the ownership papers on the 12th of March 2014, when the plane didn’t leave the United States for the Philippines, its last known official destination, until April 2014? And what was the point of travelling thousands of kilometers from Australia to the United States to buy a 42-year -old plane? The answers to all of these questions are intriguing to say the least. But you are going to have to wait for me to write the next instalment in this story.