Former Union finance minister P Chidambaram was on Friday questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for about six hours in connection with the controversial purchase of 111 aircraft for Air India at exorbitant prices in 2006 (a classic case of over-invoicing imports). The then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel was already questioned by the ED in the money laundering of huge bribe money received from aircraft makers Airbus and Boeing. The total purchase value was more than Rs.70,000 crores and this controversial purchase of 111 aircraft had collapsed the financials of the public carrier Air India.
It is learned that the aircraft prices were much higher when compared with the similar purchases of private operators. There was an escalation of around 20% in the prices and this was considered as the kickback in the purchase deal shared by top Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime. The Comptroller and Auditor General in 2011 pointed out the irregularities in this dubious purchase of 111 aircraft. Rs.70,000 crore was pumped out to purchase 48 airplanes from Airbus and 63 from Boeing. Later, in 2012, some of these new aircraft were sold to Etihad at a very cheap price and both deals were approved by Chidambaram.
The controversial lobbyist Deepak Talwar was the middleman in this deal. Last year, Talwar was deported from Dubai and is currently lodged in Tihar Jail. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had filed a series of complaints in this corrupt deal accusing Chidambaram as the kingpin. “It is quite clear from perusing these extracts that the purchased aircraft was approved by EGoM headed by Chidambaram as the Finance Minister. The extract as you can see is signed by Chidambaram, and according to Chidambaram, the Ministry of Civil Aviation was authorised to direct Air India to place orders with Boeing and General Electric (GE) accordingly and the Indian Airlines directed to purchase the Airbus,” said Swamy producing the minutes of EGoMs in 2005. The details of Swamy’s petition can be accessed here.
A money-laundering probe into an alleged aviation scam said to have occurred during the UPA dispensation, officials said.
Chidambaram’s statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), they said, adding the questioning went on for about six hours at an agency office here.
The senior Congress leader was first summoned by the federal probe agency in this case on August 23 last year but at that time he was under CBI custody after being arrested in the INX Media alleged corruption case.
The latest investigation pertains to losses suffered by Air India due to an alleged multi-crore aviation scam and irregularities in fixing air slots for international airlines. The Enforcement Directorate probe in this case also relates to the purchase of over 110 aircraft in 2006, costing about Rs 70,000 crores, for the national airline.
The CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) had in 2011 questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision to order the airplanes. Former aviation minister Praful Patel has been grilled by the ED in connection with these decisions and it is understood that the agency wanted to question Chidambaram on some leads it obtained in the case.
Officials said Chidambaram was heading an empowered Group of Ministers for these deals and hence it is important to talk to him to know the decision-making process undertaken by the government.
Chidambaram came out of jail early December last year after over 100 days in CBI and ED custody in the INX Media case. The bail was granted by the Supreme Court. The former finance and home minister is also being probed by ED in a third case of money laundering related to the Aircel-Maxis deal. He has been questioned in this case too.
Chidambaram had earlier described the ED action in the Aircel-Maxis case as a “crazy mixture of falsehoods and conjectures”.
 Aircraft purchase scam – CBI must question Chidambaram, the key approver of the deal: Swamy – Jun 6, 2017, PGurus.com
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