By Sharon Churcher and Chris Hastings, Daily Mail
A jet owned by a senior executive in the US firm which has bought Liverpool Football Club was chartered by the CIA and used in flights allegedly linked to the rendition of terror suspects.
The plane is owned by Phillip Morse, 69, the vice-chairman of New England Sports Ventures, which bought the club on Friday for £300million.
An investigation has established that between 2002 and 2005 the CIA chartered the plane from Mr Morse for millions of pounds and made extensive use of it.
Inquiries by the European Parliament and human rights groups have linked the plane to alleged extraordinary rendition operations which took place during the same period.
A European Parliament report linked the jet directly to the abduction of Abu Omar, an Islamic preacher, who was snatched from a Milan street by the CIA in 2003 before being taken to Cairo.
Extraordinary rendition entails the abduction and transfer of a terrorist suspect from one country to another. People have been taken to states such as Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan which are suspected of practising torture in violation of a United Nations Convention.
The disclosure that such a senior figure in New England Sports Ventures (NESV) has been paid millions by the CIA is likely to alarm football fans already concerned that one of the country’s most prestigious clubs is still in American hands.
Mr Omar was snatched by the CIA in 2003 despite having been granted political asylum by the Italian government. He was moved to an American air force base at Aviano near Venice before being transported to a NATO base in Ramstein in Germany. He was then flown from Germany to Cairo.
The European Parliament report reproduced flight documents for Mr Morse’s jet, which carries the logo of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, also owned by NESV, on its tail fin. The 19-seater Gulfstream IV, with the registration N85VM, flew from Washington to Ramstein on February 4, 2003.
On February 17, the day of Mr Omar’s abduction and rendition, the plane left Ramstein at 6.52pm and arrived in Cairo at 10.30pm. The following day the plane made the return journey to Washington via Shannon in Ireland.
MEPs and European rights campaigners believe the plane may have been used in other rendition operations. They point out that its travel destinations, which are detailed in flight logs, are totally at odds with those expected of a normal private charter jet.
During the same period it was on loan to the CIA the jet flew to Kabul in Afghanistan, Rabat in Morocco, Tripoli in Libya and Baku in Azerbaijan. The jet, which changed its registrations details in December 2004 to N227SV, also made at least 51 trips to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Amnesty International, which produced a report on rendition flights in 2006, believes the aircraft may have notched up 114 separate take offs and landings at the facility.
In a report released exclusively to The Mail on Sunday last week, human rights group Reprieve raises concerns that the plane was used in at least two more rendition flights.
It links a flight from Guantanamo Bay to Morocco on March 27 2004 and a journey from Guantanamo to Romania and Morocco on April 12 2004 to the abduction of al Qaeda operatives Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.
All four men were reportedly transferred from Guantanamo to foreign prisons in March and April 2004. The CIA subsequently admitted that it has video footage of al-Shibh under interrogation in a Morocco black prison.
The plane’s flight records show it also made a series of visits to RAF Leuchars in Scotland and also landed at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Luton airports.
Located by The Mail on Sunday at his home in Florida on Friday night, Mr Morse confirmed the arrangement with the CIA. He said: ‘Yeah, that’s true.’
But he insisted he had stopped renting the plane to the agency after he became aware of the rendition of Mr Omar.
He said: ‘The plane is still chartered. It’s just not chartered to the CIA.’
He said he became aware of the investigation into Mr Omar’s abduction in early 2005 and at that point he stopped hiring the jet to the CIA.
He said: ‘I didn’t know anything at the time. I don’t know that it’s ever been verified.’
Mr Morse, a partner in NESV, made his fortune from a company he founded which makes tubes used in heart surgery.
In 2002 he bought a ten per cent stake in NESV, which experts believe was valued at £26million at the time.
Mr Morse bought the white Gulfstream IV in 1995.
Clara Gutteridge of Reprieve said: ‘Questions have now been raised about the involvement of Mr Morse’s plane N85VM in three illegal rendition operations, and Reprieve is actively investigating its involvement in a number of further “transfers to torture”.
‘In light of these revelations, I hope very much that Mr Morse’s moral fibre is of the same high calibre as his bank balance.
‘I therefore look forward to Mr Morse’s full co-operation with our investigations into the clandestine activities of this executive jet. If Mr Morse fails to assist in investigations, this would raise serious questions as to his fitness to own Liverpool Football Club.’
Overseas tycoons now own nine of the 20 Premier League clubs. A NESV UK spokesman said: ‘Phillip is a passive investor in NESV and is not involved in our work here in the UK. Phillip addressed these questions publicly back in 2005, and any further inquiries about the use of his private plane are really a matter for Phillip.’