CBI registers case against AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes over violation of flying norms
CBI registers case against AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes over violation of flying normsNeeraj ChauhanCBI said that unknown officials of MoCA and FIPB (Foriegn Investment Promotion Board) connived with Venkatraman, Fernandes, Kanalingam and Dubey with intent to help AirAsia to expedite the approval process and change in aviation policies to suit the company. | TNN | Updated: May 29, 2018, 21:00 IST
- Tony Fernandes is also under investigation in Malaysia in a dispute with the Malaysian Aviation Committee over the cancellation of 120 flights during the general election period earlier in May
- AirAsia Group Bhd, said in January it was considering an IPO of the Indian operation (AirAsia India)
AirAsia was given FIPB approval in February 2013, when P Chidambaram was the finance minister while NOC (no-objection certificate) and Air Operating Permit (AOP) were given in September 2013 and May 2014 respectively when Ajit Singh held the civil aviation portfolio.
CBI has alleged that AirAsia used lobbyists like Deepak Talwar to remove/amend the 5/20 rule for operating international flights before the general elections 2014, which were swept by BJP, so that AirAsia could be benefitted.
Among those named in the FIR include Fernandes, also famously known as Tony Fernandes, hi s deputy Tharumalingam Kanalingam alias Bo Lingam, India Director of Air Asia â" Venkatramanan Ramchandran alias Venkat (a Tata Sons nominee), Rajinder Dubey (Director of HNR Pte Ltd, Singapore), Sunil Kapur (Chairman of Total Food Services, Mumbai) and AirAsia India Ltd (AAIL); Air Asia, Berhad (Kuala Lumpur), which has 49% stakes in Indian subsidiary. Alleged aviation middleman Deepak Talwar and his company DTA Consulting are also named as accused.
CBI Spokesperson R K Gaur said raids were conducted at five places on Tuesday in NCR, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Some of the places searched include AirAsiaâs offices and Venkatâs residence.
âTony Fernandes wanted the airline to be able to fly internationally from day one and their local Indian partner â" Tata Sons Ltd through their nominee R Venkatramanan would lobby to get all government approvals including the then FIPB clearance and amendment/removal of 5/20 rule of Indian International Civil Aviation,â says CBI.
As per the FDI policy of that period, foreign airlines could own up 49% shares in domestic airlines, but effective management control must remain with the Indian partner. AirAsia India was indirectly controlled and operated by AirAsia, Berhad by overriding the Board of Directors of AAIL. Tony Fernandes and Bo Lingam, CBI says, made AAIL a de-facto subsidiary rather than a joint venture, hence they violated the guidelines of FIPB.
The civil aviation ministryâs 5/20 rule, laid down in April 2004, required any player to have minimum 5 yearsâ experience of domestic air operations and fleet size of 20 aircrafts, to make it eligible for operating international flights. AirAsia India, having started India operations in June 2014, was not eligible for international operations.
CBI says a secret note was sent on February 27, 2014 to cabinet to amend the 5/20 rule followed by a supplementary note on March 05, 2014 which was not approved since Election Commission had announced L ok Sabha General Election on March 05, 2014.
The agency refused to name to the Indian ministers or officials who favored AirAsia but confirmed that the company paid in 2016 as a âsham contractâ Rs 12.26 crore to Dubey and Rs 17.42 lakh to Talwar.
This money was âutilized for paying bribes to unknown public servantsâ.
Sunil Kapur, who was given catering contract of AirAsia by Bo Lingam as âquid pro quoâ without any negotiation, also played as major role as a âlobbying agentâ for the company.
In a statement, Tata Sonsâ legal head and AirAsia India director Shuva Mandal denied any wrongdoing by the carrier and said that the company is co-operating with all regulators and agencies. Mandal added that in November 2016, the carrier had initiated criminal charges against its former CEO (Mittu Chandilya) and had also commenced civil proceedings in Bengaluru for such irregularities.
Former Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry was the first to flag off ce rtain fraudulent transactions at the carrier a couple of years ago and at that time, Venkat, according to Mistry, considered those as ânon-materialâ and âdidnât encourage any further study of itâ.
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