ED summons Air Asia CEO Fernandes, other executives in PMLA case

New Delhi, Jan 16 (PTI) The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned senior executives of Air Asia including CEO Tony Fernandes next week for questioning in connection with a money laundering case, officials said on Thursday.

The agency had registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against the airline and its officials in 2018.

Officials said while Fernandes has been summoned on January 20, few others from the current and past management have also been asked to depose for questioning in the following days.

The executives have also been asked to bring along certain case-related documents when they appear so that probe in the case can be taken forward, they said.

The ED probe 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.

A case under the PMLA was registered by the ED in May, 2018, two days after CBI filed a criminal complaint to probe these allegations.

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 a fleet of 29 Airbus A320 planes.

Investigation in the case was initiated on the basis of the claims of ousted Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry's allegation 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 R 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.

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 flying permit granted 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.

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. PTI NES IAS RCJ