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In AirAsia Case, CBI To Probe Role Of 2 Former Ministers
 
(New Delhi, May 29, 2018):The CBI would probe the role of two former ministers in the UPA-2 government for helping AirAsia in getting international licence and Foreign Investment Promotion Board or FIPB clearances. The Central Bureau of Investigation or CBI claims that bribes were paid to get rules changed and to obtain licences.

The probe agency, in its five-page FIR or complaint, has named 10 accused, including Group CEO of AirAsia Tony Fernandes and Air Asia Director and Tata Trusts Managing Trustee R Venkatraman for allegedly trying to manipulate government policies through corrupt means to get an international licence for its Indian venture Air Asia India Limited or AAIL.

The CBI 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 the 5/20 rule relaxed "before General Elections of 2014".

It is alleged that Mr Dubey was instrumental in seeking appointments and facilitating meetings for AAIL officials with officials in the ministry for getting clearances. The CBI FIR said that Mr Kapur, in the month of December 2014 at the coffee shop in the Four Seasons, Mumbai Hotel, along with deputy group CEO of AirAsia Bo Lingam, handed over a closed packet containing Rs. 50 lakh cash 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 Mr Kapur as "quid pro quo", it has alleged.

The 5/20 rule, which came into effect in 2004, stipulated that a carrier needs to be in operation for five years and possess 20 aircraft to become eligible to fly abroad.

The FIR states that on February 27, 2014, a "secret" cabinet note was moved to do away with clause 5/20 rule, and in March the ministry further moved another note but the cabinet could not give a go-ahead as elections were already notified by the Election Commission on March5, 2014.

The NDA government amended the rule in June 2016, removing the five-year operation clause, though the CBI FIR does not make it clear whether it says the policy change was effected through corrupt practices.

The crime period mentioned in the FIR is from 2013-2016. "AirAsia applied for licences in 2013 and by May 2014 they got air operating permit", a senior CBI official told NDTV.

According to him, the bribe money was paid before general elections 2014. Deepak Talwar got Rs. 17 lakh and Rajendra Dubey Rs. 12.28 crores as consultancy charges. "We are now probing the money trail further", he added.

It is alleged that next year AAIL remitted about Rs. 12.28 crores to HNR Trading Pte. Ltd. of Mr 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 Mr Talwar and Mr Kapur who acted as lobbying agents, the FIR said.

According to the Foreign Direct Investment or FDI policy between 2013-2014, 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.

The CBI FIR also names "unknown public servants" of the Civil Aviation Ministry, the then Foreign Investment Promotion Board, R. Venkataramanan, Director AirAsia, the AirAsiaGroup Deputy CEO T. Kanagalingam alias Bo Lingam.

In a statement later in the evening, AirAsia refuted all allegations. "AirAsia India refutes any wrongdoing and is cooperating with all regulators and agencies to present the correct facts", the company's director Shuva Mandal said in a statement. "In November 2016, AirAsia India had initiated criminal charges against its ex-CEO and had also commenced civil proceedings in Bangalore for such irregularities. We hope to bring early resolution to all such issues", it added.


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