ED issues fresh summons in Air Asia money laundering case
New Delhi, Jan 24: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued fresh summons to senior executives of Air Asia airlines, including CEO Tony Fernandes, for questioning next month in connection with a money laundering case, officials said on Friday.
As per sources, the central agency has asked Fernandes to appear before the investigating officer of the case here on February 5, his deputy and former Deputy Group CEO of Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad Bo Lingam on February 3 and R Venkataramanan, former Director Air Asia India Ltd, Bengaluru, on February 10. Few others linked to the present and past management of the airline have also been asked to depose.
The ED had earlier asked some of these executives to appear this month but after some failed to appear or sought additional time, new dates have been given, they said. The summons have been issued under the PMLA and as per sources the executives will be questioned and their statement recorded in connection with the investigation. The agency had registered a case under the PMLA against the airline and its officials in May, 2018. This criminal case was filed two days after CBI filed a criminal complaint to probe these allegations.
Probe in the case is related to allegations that the airline tried to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence for its Indian venture Air Asia India Limited.
The ED is also probing this case under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA). Air Asia India at present has flights connecting 21 domestic destinations and as per a aircraft fleet tracking website, it has 29 Airbus A320 planes. Investigation in the case was initiated on the basis of allegations of ousted Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry that fraudulent transactions of Rs 22 crore, involving non-existent entities in India and Singapore, were carried out in an instance involving the airline. The CBI and ED, in their criminal FIRs, had booked Group CEO of Air Asia Fernandes, Tharumalingam Kanagalingam also known as Bo Lingam, former Deputy Group CEO of Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad, and Venkataramanan, Director Air Asia India Ltd, Bengaluru, besides companies Air Asia India Pvt Ltd and Air Asia Berhad.
The allegation pertains to Air Asia officials and others allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get international licence for its Indian venture Air Asia India Limited. The CBI had alleged that Venkataramanan was lobbying in 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 fleet of 20 aircraft as per 5/20 rule.
The company is yet to get international flying permit. Fernandes wanted it to fly internationally from the day of getting the flying permit in May, 2014, the CBI complaint had alleged. He and his local Indian partner Tata Sons through their nominee Venkatramanan would lobby in government to get all approvals including FIPB clearance and amend or removal of existing 5/20 rule for international operations, the CBI alleged.
The CBI had also named Rajender Dubey, Director of Singapore-based HNR Trading pvt Ltd, Sunil Kapur, Chairman Total Food Services, Mumbai and Deepak Talwar, Principal and Founder DTA consulting (deported to India last year from Dubai), 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". Air Asia had denied any wrongdoing after the CBI filed the case and carried out raids at multiple premises. 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 violating various existing norms of erstwhile FIPB, now defunct, under the Union finance ministry.