The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes and certain other executives for questioning in connection with a money-laundering probe into alleged manipulation of government policies for an international flying license.
Sources said while Fernandes has been summoned on January 20, few others have been asked to depose for questioning on the following days.
The ED case, registered in 2018, is based on a CBI FIR in the same matter. The CBI has already questioned multiple top AirAsia executives, including Fernandes, in connection with the probe. The ED is also probing this case under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).
Investigation in the case was initiated on the basis of former 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 the ED, in their criminal FIRs, had booked Fernandes; Tharumalingam Kanagalingam (also known as Bo Lingam), former deputy group CEO of Malaysia-based AirAsia Berhad; R Venkataramanan, director at AirAsia India, Bengaluru; AirAsia India and AirAsia Berhad.
It is alleged that the accused promoters of the company and board of directors entered into a criminal conspiracy
with unidentified government officials through lobbyists to expedite the approval process for AirAsia India and change aviation policies to suit the company.
“It was further alleged that the FIPB (Foreign Investment Promotion Board) and FDI norms were violated by said air group by giving effective management control to a foreign entity by making the said private airline (Air Asia India Ltd) a de facto subsidiary indirectly rather than a joint venture,” the CBI had said.
The agency has alleged that lobbyists were paid money, which was utilised for paying bribes to unknown public servants and others for securing permit for operation of international scheduled air transport services.
In its FIR, the CBI had said AirAsia (India) Ltd is a joint venture between Tata Sons and Malaysian carrier Air Asia Berhad — each holding 49 per cent shares with the rest 2 per cent divided between Chairman S Ramadorai (0.5 per cent) and Venkataramanan(1.5 per cent).
The agency has alleged that Venkataramanan was part of criminal conspiracy involving Fernandes, Bo Lingam, and lobbyists to expedite the approval process and change aviation policies.
It is alleged that the “real controller of AirAsia (India) Ltd” Tony Fernandes wanted the airline venture to be able to fly internationally from day one and their local Indian partner Tata Sons through their nominee R Venkataramanan would lobby to get all government approvals including the FIP clearance and amendment of 5/20 rule of Civil Aviation, the CBI FIR states.
The agency has alleged that Fernandes, Bo Lingam and Venkataramanan intentionally chose to beat the legal frameworks and policies of the aviation sector.
“R Venkataramanan was involved in lobbying with stakeholders in the Government of India to secure mandatory approvals, some of them through non-transparent means, including the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) clearance, NOC and the attempt for removal or modification of 5/20 rule,” the FIR said.