Air Asia Scam: CBI books CEO Tony Fernandes and Tata Trust’s head Venkat. Chidambaram & Ajit Singh to be summoned soon

The CBI has lodged an FIR against Air Asia CEO and Tata Sons' Managing Trustee over FIPB violations

Will Air Asia illegal FIPB clearance come back to haunt Chidambaram?
Will Air Asia illegal FIPB clearance come back to haunt Chidambaram?

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has booked the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Air Asia, Tony Fernandes and  Air Asia Director and Tata Trust’s Managing Trustee R Venkatraman for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get an international license for its Indian venture Air Asia India Limited. The controversial lobbyist Deepak Talwar is also as accused in the dubious approvals given to Malaysian origin firm Air Asia by former Finance Minister P Chidambaram and the then Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh in 2013.

Meanwhile, in 2016, the dismissed Tata Son’s Chief Cyrus Mistry had accused Ratan Tata of siphoning funds illegally to Air Asia and the fund ultimately reached a US-designated terror accused person, Dubai based resident Hamid Reza Malakotipour.

Malaysian tycoon Fernandes’ man, Tharumalingam Kanagalingam, also known as Bo Lingam, former Deputy Group CEO of Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad and companies Air Asia India Pvt Ltd and Air Asia Berhad has also been named as accused in the case.

The controversies in the approvals given by Civil Aviation Ministry and the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval by Finance Ministry in late 2012 came into the public domain after BJP leader Subramanian Swamy approached Delhi High Court in 2013 demanding the cancellation of the approvals given to Air Asia. Many times the Government has evaded and sought time from responding to Swamy’s allegations in Court and the next hearing is scheduled in July. Swamy in his recent complaint to the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) Directors said that Chidambaram is the main villain in this deal like all other dubious deals like 2G Scam, Aircel-Maxis etc[1]. He also said that kingpin behind this scam in none other than the Tata head Ratan Tata.

Meanwhile, in 2016, the dismissed Tata Son’s Chief Cyrus Mistry had accused Ratan Tata of siphoning funds illegally to Air Asia and the fund ultimately reached a US-designated terror accused person, Dubai based resident Hamid Reza Malakotipour. This was found in the forensic audit of Tata Group firms ordered by Mistry. The Enforcement Directorate is already probing this money laundering angle[2].

“The case has been registered under 120-B (criminal conspiracy) under the IPC and sections 13(2) read with 13 (1) (d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act. The searches took place at five locations in Delhi NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru,” CBI spokesperson R K Gaur said here today.

The agency has alleged that Venkataraman was lobbying the government to secure mandatory approvals, some of them through “non-transparent means”, including the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance, No Objection Certificate and the attempt for removal or modification of 5/20 rule. It is alleged that to be eligible for international operations, the company was required to have five years of experience and a fleet of 20 aircraft as per the 5/ 20 rule. The company is yet to get an international flying permit as it currently has only 18 aircraft, they said. Fernandes wanted it to fly internationally from the day of getting flying permit granted in May 2014, it alleged.

He and his local Indian partner Tata Sons through their nominee Venkatraman would lobby in government to get all approvals including FIPB clearance and amend or removal of existing 5/20 rule for international operations, the FIR has alleged.

The agency has also named Rajender Dubey, Director of Singapore-based HNR Trading Pte Ltd, Sunil Kapur, Chairman Total Food Services, Mumbai and Deepak Talwar, Principal and Founder DTA Consulting, New Delhi and the company HNR Trading as alleged lobbyists who used their influence to get 5/20 rule relaxed “before General Elections of 2014”.

It is alleged that Dubey was instrumental in seeking appointments and facilitating meetings for officials of AAIL with officials in the ministry for getting clearances. CBI FIR said that Kapur in the month of December 2014 at the coffee shop in the Four Seasons, Mumbai Hotel along with Bo Lingam handed over a closed packet containing cash of Rs.50 lakhs to one Sriram, which was given by Bo Lingam to facilitate the removal of the 5/20 rule. In return the catering contract for the airlines was given to Kapur as a “quid pro quo”, it has alleged.

The FIR has alleged that a secret note was sent on February 27, 2014, to Cabinet to amend the rule followed by a supplementary note on March 05, 2014 which was not approved since Election Commission had announced Lok Sabha general elections on March 5, 2014.

It is alleged that next year Air Asia (lndia) Limited (AAIL) remitted about Rs.12.28 crores to HNR Trading Pte. Ltd. Of Dubey for a “sham contract” on the basis of a bogus agreement on plain paper. This money was allegedly utilized for paying a bribe to unknown public servants of and others for securing a permit for international operations through Talwar and Kapur who acted as lobbying agents, the First Information Report (FIR) said.

According to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy between 2013-14, foreign airlines were allowed to own only 49 per cent shares in domestic airlines but effective management control must remain with the Indian partner, the agency said.  It is alleged that Air Asia India Ltd–a joint venture between

Tata sons and Malaysian company Air Asia Berhad–was indirectly controlled and operated by the Malaysia group and particularly Air Asia, Berhad was found violating existing various norms of erstwhile Foreign Investment Promotion Board, now defunct.

Fernandes and Bo Lingam had “indirectly formalised” the structure through a “Brand License Agreement” between Air Asia (lndia) Ltd. (represented by Fernandes) and Air Asia, Berhad (represented by BO Lingam) on April 17, 2013 which indirectly made Air Asia (lndia) Ltd., a de-facto subsidiary rather than a joint venture.

“lt is further revealed that the shareholders and Indian partners in the joint venture, including the board members, were not only aware of these intentions but also consciously ensured violation of existing FIPB norms, hence violation of FDI norms were prima-facie found by giving effective management control to a foreign entity,” the agency FIR said.

The CBI is expected to summon Chidambaram for the blatant FIPB violations and former Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh soon.

References:

[1] Swamy urges CBI and ED Chiefs to speed up the probe on the FIPB violations in Air Asia approved by ChidambaramMar 4, 2018, PGurus.com

[2] Money flown to terrorist from Tata/ Air Asia deal: Swamy urges CBI to probeDec 2, 2016, PGurus.com

Team PGurus

We are a team of focused individuals with expertise in at least one of the following fields viz. Journalism, Technology, Economics, Politics, Sports & Business. We are factual, accurate and unbiased.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Wish Tata could have helped Air Deccan in stead of Kingfisher, would it have done better job ?
    May be still licence raj system and NOT ready to combat competition !?
    Who really acted as middle man LOL.
    Hope this will rectify direction to enter Indian market.and grow over crabs.

  2. Rotten Tata is a big scamster but got a fake image due to money pumping in media. This man along with Anil Ambani are behind all scams – be it in Telecom, Coal, Power, Transport, Civil Aviation. The Wire website co-owner MK Venu was staffer of lobbyst Deepak Talwar and now pretending as independent journo.

  3. TOI broke this story in the afternoon. My comment was” cinnect the dots. The cat will bite PC’s NET’!!!!

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