The mystery owner of Emiliano Sala's private plane registered the aircraft in the US using a British company paid £450-a-year to help keep their identity secret, MailOnline can reveal today.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch [AAIB], who revealed yesterday that Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson were poisoned by carbon monoxide seeping into the cabin, says its investigators have established the true identity of the UK-based owner.
But it is barred from revealing who it is because the records are held by the Federal Aviation Authority [FAA] in Washington DC whose own regulations prevent this crucial information being made public.
The FAA also chooses not to publish a plane's annual 'MOT' - known as a certificate of airworthiness - or when it is due to expire.
More than 600 UK-based plane owners have used the same loophole because aircraft registration in America is cheaper than in Britain and maintenance costs are also understood to be lower.
Airfield owner Humphrey Penney told MailOnline last night that the aircraft had 'a lot of problems' and was 'unfit to fly' in the months before it crashed in the Channel.
He also claimed that regular pilot David Henderson, who was arrested and bailed in June on suspicion of manslaughter, was 'unhappy with the maintenance' and also named 45-year-old Fay Keely, an accountant from Nottinghamshire, as the owner.
The FAA registration document for Sala's doomed plane reveal Southern Aircraft Consulting in Suffolk gold the Piper Malibu in a trust, helping owners shield their identities
Emiliano Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson were exposed to fatal levels of carbon monoxide in the private plane that crashed into the Channel on January 21 this year, a bombshell report by the UK's Air Accident branch revealed
The ownership issue may prove vital to the question of who proves financially liable for the losses incurred by Cardiff City, who paid £15million for Sala.
A criminal prosecution is likely to follow the AAIB’s final report when it is published by the end of 2019.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has established the identity of the owner of the doomed Sala jet but will not name them.
A spokesman said: 'Our Regulations don't permit us to disclose the name of an aircraft owner'.
Investigators will be checking whether the Piper Malibu was properly maintained and safe before its final flight.
Details of owners of the aircraft have been shrouded in mystery.
Earlier this year it emerged that these have been removed or withheld from the US' Federal Aviation Administration in what appears to a concerted attempt to keep their identity a secret.
Establishing the identity of the owners was the first priority of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, (AIIB) which is examining the crash.
The Piper Malibu has been registered in the US in the name of a Suffolk-based trustee firm, Southern Aircraft Consultancy Inc, in a way which prevents the actual owner being known.
The 39-year-old aircraft's listing with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that there were no previous owners.
But one company linked to the has past and present directors based at three UK addresses.
But two of those were empty, with all furniture removed. Staff at another address – a mansion in Nottinghamshire - ordered reporters to leave the grounds.
The ownership issue may prove vital to the question of who proves financially liable for the losses incurred by Cardiff City - who are legally bound to pay Nantes for the player who died before he had a chance to kick a ball for them.
One person who is known to have a connection to the aircraft is David Henderson - the pilot who was reportedly due to fly it but pulled out at the 11th hour
Mr Henderson from York, was was filmed by the BBC with the plane at Retford Gamston Airport in 2015 for a feature transporting small planes across continents to new owners.
FAA registration allows owners to protect their identity, for security or financial reasons, whereas in the UK the Civil Aviation Authority names the owner of every plane it with a UK licence.
Enquiries over the past year have centred on Fay Keely's mysterious firm Cool Flourish, listed at Companies House as a management consultancy business.
She is the company’s major shareholder and is listed by the companies register as resident at a property at Alfreton, Derbyshire, which is deserted and unfurnished.
Another director, her sister Heather Keely, 41, has also not been traced, while a mansion listed as the home of an older former director Terence Keely - believed to be their father - is also empty.
The AAIB says it cannot name the owner but a report earlier this year said the person it belonged to 'had an informal arrangement with a third party to manage the aircraft on its behalf'.
Regular pilot David Henderson was expected to fly the plane from Nantes to Cardiff on January 21 this year - but has never spoken about why he pulled out only to confirm that he was alive after the flight manifest in France allegedly named him as pilot.
He was arrested in June on suspicion of the manslaughter of Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson, 59, from Scunthorpe, who also perished in the air disaster, but remains on bail two months later.
The doomed Piper Malibu aircraft that crashed in the Channel on January 21 was registered to a small British firm called the Southern Aircraft Consultancy which charges £450 per year to hold the plane in an American trust.
The business in Bungay, Suffolk is understood to manage hundreds of aircraft registered in the same way.
Mysteriously 39-year-old aircraft's listing with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that there were no previous owners.
And in 2015 it changed hands four times in a single day, MailOnline understands.
The British engineer who inspected the Piper Malibu aircraft in the months before the crash told MailOnline was so riddled with faults that an engineer had refused to repair it, saying: 'It was not fit to be flown.'
Details of owners of the aircraft have been shrouded in mystery.
One person who is known to have a connection to the aircraft is David Henderson - the pilot who was reportedly due to fly it but pulled out at the 11th hour.
Mr Henderson from York, was filmed by the BBC with the plane at Retford Gamston Airport in 2015 for a feature transporting small planes across continents to new owners.
Humphrey Penney, who is also a licensed engineer, was asked to give a second opinion on the stricken Piper PA-46 Malibu in summer last year and said he believes that it was unsafe.
He spoke out for the first time following yesterday's interim report published by the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch which showed that 28-year-old Argentinian striker Sala and his pilot David Ibbotson were exposed to deadly levels of the toxic gas even before the private plane plunged into the English Channel.
The wreckage of the Piper Malibu still sits at the bottom of the Channel (pictured) - 220ft down - and Sala's family say news of his poisoning means it must be recovered for more investigation
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Mr Penney said: 'What happened it all so sad and tragic. We had deep concerns about the plane when we looked it at a year ago. We nearly took it on but didn't because there were so many problems with it.'
Mr Henderson, originally thought to be the pilot who perished on the plane, had taken it to Sandtoft Airport in Belton, North Lincolnshire, on behalf of the owner chartered accountant Faye Keely.
Sandtoft boss Mr Penney, recalling his examination of the plane, said: 'Christ, this is awful! A lot needs doing.'
He added: 'The hydraulic motor was a shambles and the flaps, autopilot and de-icing system weren't working and there were several other problems.
Airfield owner Humphrey Penney (pictured) revealed the craft had 'a lot of problems' and regular pilot David Henderson was 'unhappy with the maintenance'
'There was a long list of things things that needed doing and it was going to cost an awful lot of money to put it right, in the region of £14,000 to £20,000.
'It was not in a fit state to be flown for a passenger but only in an emergency a short distance for maintenance and to get it fixed.'
The American craft registered to a Trust with a beneficial British owner, Ms Keely from Bonsall, Derbyshire - a pilot herself - had come to Mr Penney for a second expert opinion from Retford Gamston Airport in Gamston, Nottinghamshire, where it had been based long term.
Mr Penney said: 'It was moved here for a relatively short period and we then sent it to another organisation for the recommended work to be done. I can't comment on what work was later done.'
The plane was moved to nearby Sturgate Airfield in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. No one was