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 its CEO Tony Fernandes, next week for questioning in 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.

The officials said while Fernandes has been summoned here on January 20, a few others from the airline's current and past management have also been asked to depose before it for questioning in the following days.

The executives have also been asked to bring along with them certain case-related documents when they appear before the ED so that the probe into 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 query sent on the latest developments by PTI to Air Asia Group and Air Asia India did not elicit any response.

The case under the PMLA was registered by the ED in May 2018 two days after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed a criminal complaint to probe these allegations.

Some executives and employees of the airline have already been quizzed in the past by the ED, which 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 an aircraft fleet tracking website, it has 29 Airbus A320 planes.

Investigation into the case was initiated on 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.

Certain disclosures made by alleged aviation lobbyist Deepak Talwar are also understood to have given the agency some leads in the case.

The CBI and the ED, in criminal FIRs, had booked Air Asia group CEO Fernandes, former deputy group CEO of Malaysia-based Air Asia Berhad, Tharumalingam Kanagalingam also known as Bo Lingam, and Director Air Asia India Ltd, Bengaluru, R Venkataramanan, besides companies Air Asia India Pvt Ltd and Air Asia Berhad.

The allegations pertain to Air Asia officials and others of 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 through 'non-transparent means'.

The approvals included the Foreign Investment Promotion Board's (FIPB) clearance and no objection certificate from the government, it said, alleging that an attempt was made for removal or modification of the 5/20 Rule.

To be eligible for international operations, the company had to have five years of experience and a fleet of 20 aircraft as per the Rule. The company is yet to get an international flying permit. Fernandes wanted the airline it to operate internationally from the day of getting the flying permit, the CBI complaint had said.

He and his local Indian partner Tata Sons through their nominee Venkatramanan would lobby in the government to get all approvals, including FIPB clearance, and amend or remove the existing 5/20 Rule for international operations, it alleged.

The CBI had also named Director of Singapore-based HNR Trading pvt Ltd Rajender Dubey, Chairman Total Food Services, Mumbai, Sunil Kapur and Principal and Founder DTA Consulting Deepak Talwar, who was deported to India last year from Dubai.

The company HNR Trading as alleged lobbyists used their influence to get the 5/20 Rule relaxed 'before the General Elections of 2014', it alleged.

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 NES ANB ANB