The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has summoned NCP leader and former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for questioning in its probe connected to irregularities in Air India. The NCP leader has been asked to appear before the investigating officer of the case on June 6 and will mark the first time Patel appears before the agency in this case.
The ED had named Patel in its chargesheet filed on May 1 where it said that corporate lobbyist Deepak Talwar was a close friend of his and that Talwar had exchanged several emails with his office at the same time when alleged irregularities in the acquisition of aircraft were committed and profitable routes and time slots of Air India were traded with foreign airlines.
The ED is probing multiple cases of alleged money laundering on the basis of four FIRs filed by the CBI in connection with irregularities in the merger of Air India with Indian Airlines, the purchase of 111 aircraft by the national carrier from Airbus and Boeing, alleged ceding of profitable routes to foreign airlines and alleged corruption in the opening of certain training institutes with foreign investment.
The agencies have accused Talwar of playing the role of the middleman in these deals which were all signed in the UPA regime when Patel was Civil Aviation Minister. Patel has denied any wrongdoing, saying all decisions were collective.
Following the summons, Patel said, “I will be happy to cooperate with the ED so that it understands the complexities of the aviation industry.” The NCP, too, came out in support. Maharashtra NCP president Jayant Patil said, “We have no doubt that Patel will satisfy the queries raised by the ED. Patel’s contribution to the aviation sector is commendable. It is because of him that a common man can today afford to take a flight,” he said.
“I do not wish to comment more about it. But as far as my understanding goes, the decisions were taken by a group of ministers.”
In its prosecution complaint filed on May 1, the ED told a Delhi court that “Mr Praful Patel is a dear friend” of Talwar who allegedly facilitated dispersal of profit-making Air India routes to private airlines during 2008-09 using his “proximity to the minister and aviation personnel in India”.
The ED told the court that in lieu of securing favourable traffic rights for three foreign airlines, Talwar received payments to the tune of Rs 272 crore during 2008-09.
Detailing its investigation after Talwar was deported to India from Dubai on January 31, the ED said in its report to the court: “The investigation has established that Deepak Talwar has obtained various facilities in the aviation sector, increased seat entitlements/points of call for air traffic rights, consultancy service for the operation of airlines etc, for Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways.”
On February 13, The Indian Express reported that three years after Indian Airlines signed a deal to purchase 43 aircraft from Airbus, the French aircraft manufacturer incorporated a company in partnership with Deepak Talwar and transferred USD 10.5 million in its accounts. The company based out of Singapore has Talwar’s son Aditya as one of the directors.